Scotland has 19 autonomous higher education institutions (HEI). This diverse range of HEIs includes 14 campus based universities, one distance-learning university, an educational partnership institution based in the Highlands and Islands, one art school, a conservatoire and an agricultural college. All are funded by the Scottish Government via the Scottish Funding Council (SFC), which is responsible for distributing funding to individual institutions for teaching, research and associated activities.

In November 2007, it was agreed with Universities Scotland to establish a Joint Future Thinking Taskforce on Universities. New Horizons, the report from the Taskforce sets out a clear context for the future development of higher education in Scotland. With challenges from Government to universities and challenges from universities to Government, it outlines the shared vision of a successful university sector. It also considers how to optimise and shape the contribution that Scottish universities can make during the next 20 years to the Scottish economy, culture and society and to the political priorities of the Scottish Government.