SANDY Moffat has a master plan. Or, rather, Sandy Moffat has a dream which in our drone-clone culture will probably remain just that. Still, here goes with the wish-list:

"If I were first minister, I'd divorce art schools immediately from an overall education authority." The head of painting and printmaking at Glasgow School of Art sits further back in his chair, the better to expand his challenge. "I'd put art schools under the auspices of a culture ministry and I'd get rid of all the bureaucratic edicts which plague us here. And I'd recruit every single one of the best artists we have in this country, to teach our students."

After 12 years in his present role, and 25 years at GSA, Moffat will retire in less than six months. As he completes his dream agenda, he smiles slightly, amused perhaps by his demob effrontery but also the promise of freedom. Then, feigning dictator status, he declares: "And I'd make all this the law of the land."

Where would the money come from? "Well, you probably wouldn't need enormous sums. In the old days, huge money wasn't spent on art colleges but they were exciting places because they attracted the finest artists as teachers. That needs to happen again."

Tall and silver-haired, Moffat possesses an enigmatic self-containment.

He is a painter whose own distinction can be observed at the National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh, in which hang his canvases of notable Scots. On show in the bookshop, they include Moffat's powerful depiction of Muriel Spark, the novelist, along with his best-known work, The Poets' Pub, where, among others, Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean, Hugh MacDiarmid and Edwin Morgan sit in rapt anticipation, as if having placed last orders for the muse.

It must depress him, then, that forms such as conceptual art have pushed painting and drawing out of favour? Moffat's response is philosophical. Since he was a student, he reflects, he has heard the argument that painting is in decline. If the works of people such as Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin have made that claim more strident, it is perhaps because of that incorrigible trick, the shock of the new. In fact, the sale of paintings is booming now and the new Saatchi exhibition at City Hall in London places canvasses back in prime position. As Moffat says, painting and sculpture are the oldest expressions of art. If painters have survived this long, they are not about to destroy their easels and go away.

But, in talking to Moffat now, you quickly realise there is more to his candour than last-minute playfulness or mischief. He arrived at GSA as a lecturer under that master of the figurative tradition, David Donaldson, and, in his quarter century at the school, the changes witnessed have been as deeply felt as any that might be mustered by tear-away conceptualists with sights set on the Turner.

So, is Moffat saying that art education is in terminal decline? He pauses before answering, then, with perceptible dismay in his voice, he replies that forcing art schools down an academic route has been a profound mistake. Yet, from the late 1980s onwards, it was decreed that the installation of degree courses would make art schools better equipped for the competitive realities of the market place and also elevate their status, a rebuff to university snobberies that regarded them as being below the salt.

"A lot of people believed that. Yet how can an artist be inferior to that kind of stuff? Once that line of thinking took hold the real purpose of art schools began to crumble, and crumble very quickly."

When Moffat thinks back to the 1960s at Edinburgh Art College and those who taught him - William Gillies, Robin Philipson and James Cumming - the notion that their teaching was somehow secondary to that of a university never crossed their minds. "But, today, art education has been forced into an academic straitjacket from top to bottom, and that's completely at odds with the artistic ethos. Now all you hear about are the bureaucratic pressures of degree assessments which have taken over the world of art. We've become a kind of testing ground for development programmes from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, which are completely meaningless in terms of educating an artist." As a result, says Moffat, far too much time is spent by tutors filling in forms relating to bureaucratic projections.

Of course this mutual antipathy of the artist and the pen-pusher is bred in the marrow. But it seems more intense today because management-by-red-tape appears to be the template for everything.

Complaints similar to Moffat's fester at all levels of education and throughout the hands-on divisions of the NHS. Is it pointless, then, to make a fuss? "Well, we have to believe that institutions like GSA have special attributes and particular reputations which must be handed on, " he says. But it worries him that the school could dwindle into an allpurpose academic institution with just a few art-related subjects thrown in. "There's a real danger of that, people have got to fight it. In that old phrase, people have got to stand up and be counted."

But isn't there a complication in marshalling such clout when now so many tutors in art colleges have scarcely more experience than the students? Moffat says that soon there won't be any artists teaching in art schools, a situation he already sees in England when doing his rounds as an external examiner. "It's my worst fear that it will happen in Scotland and there are two reasons for it. The first is probably a good one in a way:

we are living in very prosperous times and good painters can make a lot of money simply by exhibiting and selling. But the second reason is that they don't want all this regimented hassle." Let's say, muses Moffat, that artists of iconic worth came to teach two days a month. "They'd have to spend one of those days filling in pink forms. Well, they're just not going to do it."

The new Tate Modern show of works by Joseph Beuys, the German sculptor-as-cult-hero, reminds Moffat that Beuys, who died in 1986, worked in Scotland on several occasions. That was in the 1970s, when interest and controversy swirled around him for the potent and emotive symbolism of his constructions made from seemingly insignificant items - rusty razor blades, toe-nail clippings or chunks of animal fat. "I met him two or three times and he was an old-fashioned German idealist with lots of interesting ideas about how art can inter-relate with society. He was a very distinguished teacher at the art academy in Dusseldorf, and he really believed that art could change things. But if Beuys were applying now for a job in an art school here he wouldn't get it. He'd be seen as much too dangerous."

Campbell, Howson, Conroy, Currie, Watt . . . these are just some of the big-time Scottish painters Moffat has taught.

They belong to a spectacularly gifted GSA generation, as indeed Moffat did 45 years ago in Edinburgh where his student comrades at the art college included John Bellany, the painter, David Harding, the immensely inf luential former head of environmental art at Glasgow, and the late Alan Bold, writer and painter.

All are long-term friends and, in their day, were iconoclasts to a man.

"David retired a few years ago but he had a huge impact here, and he's so disturbed by present concerns that he's preparing a paper on Who Took The Heart Out Of Art Schools? So, it's not just me who thinks like this."

At the top of the Mackintosh Building we are sitting in one of the lofty, milk-white rooms not far from the glazed passageway that Charles Rennie Mackintosh called the pavilion, but which students have always affectionately nick-named the hen run. Occasionally, those who might be described as "the barbarians at the gate" mutter that the Mackintosh Building should be turned into a museum and replaced with a purpose-built, multi-functional campus. "But this is a purpose-built art school, " says Moffat, wearily. Mackintosh designed it as such very specifically and it's one of the great buildings of the twentieth century. In fact, the Royal College of Art is planning a new building and sent its architects up here to look at us. So, this is still the place."

After 25 years, Moffat will miss it when he moves out for the last time.

But, at 62, he can't delay returning to his own work any longer. He intends to spend most daylight hours painting at his studio in Edinburgh. "I must go back to Edinburgh because if I stayed in Glasgow I'd be bumping into all the people I know and there'd just be too many distractions."

The future, however, also holds a new beginning for Moffat. Recently GSA announced a programme of courses that will bring scores of Chinese students to the school. As they arrive in Scotland, Moffat will be setting out in the opposite direction. As a result of one of his lecture trips, he has been invited to be a visiting professor at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing. "Interestingly, they don't want me to teach students but to spend six months painting with their younger members of staff."

He smiles at the irony, for this system of teaching - the master surrounded by his apprentices - was once the custom in great art schools in Britain. So, a world away, Sandy Moffat's career won't end but, every now and then, spring back to how it all began.