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Testing friendship ties

Brian Taylor | 16:23 UK time, Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Question: Will Alex Salmond exempt students from Northern Ireland from paying tuition fees at Scottish universities?

You have 30 seconds to answer.

Examination candidates should not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

Give up? If you answered no, you win a coconut.

If you answered yes, brush up on your practical politics by dipping into the works of Niccolo Macchiavelli.

The issue arises because Mr Salmond was challenged to address this point when he met Northern Ireland Ministers at Stormont. He said he’d look into the matter.

The formal document which emerged from the talks was published today, outlining proposals for joint action on areas like transport, education and tourism.

So why, given the evident goodwill at the Stormont talks, do I think that concessions on student fees are unlikely?

Two reasons. It would be costly and it would infuriate the good and sensible people of England and Wales - who also pay student fees at Scottish universities.

Remember that this conundrum was not created by the present administration.

When Labour and the LibDems scrapped upfront tuition fees, it emerged that, under European rules, they had to provide a comparable deal for students from other EU member states.

But that did not extend to students from elsewhere in the UK.

Which creates a particular dilemma on the island of Ireland.

Travel from Dublin to study in, say, Edinburgh. No charge.

Travel from Belfast to St Andrews. Stump up.

When Mr Salmond said he’d look at the issue, he meant just that.

He’ll look at it.

Scottish Executive sources say, for example, they might encourage a bursary scheme - in Northern Ireland itself - to provide help.

But I do not believe they will drop fees for the many students from Northern Ireland who choose to study at Scotland’s excellent centres of learning.

Friendship goes only so far.


  • 1.
  • At 07:16 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • steve wrote:

sounds like yet another good reason for a united ireland, haha. Have a word with mr paisley will you Brian?

  • 2.
  • At 10:13 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • Ulster25 wrote:

You are spot on. It demonstrates the lack of understanding of the reality of these issues amongst Northern Ireland Assembly members. It is in the power of the NI Assembly to change the position of NI strudents studying in NI rather than handing out a begging bowl to Scotland

  • 3.
  • At 10:53 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Many people from Ulster (such as Francis Hutcheson, an Ulsterman who was one of the founding fathers of the Scottish Enlightenment) had no choice but to travel to Scotland to study at University for centuries and the tradition continues to this day.

It wasn't until 1845 that Universities in Ireland which welcomed Presbyterians and Catholics were established, with many being strictly Anglican institutions before then.

People from NI will continue to cross the North Channel to study, we pay in NI, we pay in England, we pay in Scotland.

The best thing the SNP could do is to carry out their manifesto promise to "remove the burden of debt repayments owed by Scottish domiciled and resident graduates."

Now that could really create a 'Hutcheson effect' which would boost Scotland.

will we see it? I very much doubt it.

  • 4.
  • At 11:55 PM on 19 Jun 2007,
  • neil wrote:


The answer was always no - so why ponder such a pointless question, if you want to position yourself as a heavyweight political commentator as you wish but you need to start to ask some serious questions and look at the public sector and private finances. This was a no story.



  • 5.
  • At 12:25 AM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Graeme wrote:

Brian - you may be right on Mr Salmonds promise to "look into things" but there might be other considerations.

With freedom of movement within the EU and the (thankfully) peaceful Island of Ireland how difficult would it be for the average Northern Irish student to find an address in the south to apply for a Scottish university place and thus avoid tuition fees. I'm willing to bet that as a canny lot most of them on finishing there basic schooling immediately relocate to south of the border. The ones planning to go to a Scottish University anyway.

Therefore the cost of allowing free tuition fees to the the Northern Irish is probably minimal.

Although a minimal cost it could probably be used as a lever to encourage the Labour led Welsh assembly to take seriously forming an alliance with the Nats as they can see that others have had positive results.

The desire of Welsh students to avoid tuition fees "would have to be looked into" but would have to come up against other obstacles. There would be the problem of "English students crossing to Wales" severely affecting the Scottish budget. However I'm sure that promises to look at other constructive Scots - Welsh alliances would keep them on board.

Thus the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish could create a united front to lobby for something which would benefit them all - lower corporation tax perhaps. If this was successful it may be enough to forget about those Welsh students who want to go to Scotland.

English students of course are in the unfortunate position of not having a devolved parliament so Alex does not even have to bother looking into their tuition fee problems - that's a Westminster issue.

A lot of ifs and buts to be sure and Alex can only win. For those who benefit the rewards are clear, for those who miss out he's valiantly trying to put right previous wrongs and will of course succeed in the long run when his Parliament has more substantial powers.

  • 6.
  • At 12:48 AM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • derek barker wrote:

Well Brian,on this issue the shrewd Mr Salmond has rattled your coconuts "WHY" well its very likely that a 12.5% business rate in N.I.would free up a large sum of cash,where would that cash go? probably into further education budget and whats that got to do with Scotland,well on the grounds of shared devolvment, Scotland would seek the same business rate "PARITY" with its devolved partner,which in turn could lead to a shared revolving budget,supported by business for the betterment of the peoples in N.I. and Scotland.Remember Brian its a new type of politics called"CONSENSUS" AND ABOVE ALL,ITS NOT ABOUT THE BURDEN OF INDIVIDUALS PUT THE COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY OF GOVERNMENTS

  • 7.
  • At 10:17 AM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

The truth is that the Westminster village or more correctly those who either inhabit it and those who are merely attracted to it like bees to a honey pot is seemingly to find the reality of free thinking outside the Westminster box abhorrent; apologies for the ‘out of the box’ reference, I winced myself when I typed it.

The fact that two countries, Wales and Scotland may collude with the Province of Northern Ireland to legislate or campaign differently and more favourably for their populations from Westminster may have the population of England asking, as they already are in some instances, “why can we not have some of that?”

The fact that one of these upstarts is titled a Province is the clue to Westminster thinking / mindset; since the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284, the Government of Ireland Act in 1920 and the Union of the Crowns in 1707, England/Westminster have seen all three as provinces or regions, evidence of this can be found in all institutions whether or not they have British in their titles or not.

Whilst this independent view on legislation is in some way good for the populations of the ‘three upstarts’ it will also have a positive effect on how the English voter views and communicates with their legislators; I do not suggest for a minute that the views of the ‘three’ will always be correct, I do feel however that they will return a more balanced view on how to legislate than do the Peers in the House of Lords.

The reality of Government project end costs are viewed differently in the mind of the current First Minister than the previous incumbent; the Westminster attitude, both Labour and Conservative, when in power of quoting an acceptable figure to the public to permit projects to be undertaken with the certainty that cost overruns became an acceptable Government ploy / outcome in all Government contracts.

All MOD contract, all Government computer systems, the Holyrood carbuncle and the Olympics 2012 (the regeneration of East and South East London) being only the tip of the iceberg; we need Ministers at all levels of Government who consider costs and contracts effectively not merely trying to mark their political territories and create legacy items in their names.

I am glad for once the end cost is seemingly being realistically being evaluated for all expenditures at the outset rather than leaving the next Government to pick up the bills for the current norms which are massive cost overruns.

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