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Tuition Quandary

Brian Taylor | 18:22 UK time, Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A quandary for Scotland's political parties as they meet today to consider the future of university funding. What to do?

The introduction of upfront tuition fees is a non-starter: electorally impossible on all sides. But what about a graduate contribution?

The Tories, pursuing their self-created blunt image, say that such a charge is inevitable and sensible in the light of overall spending constraint.

The perceived gap in funding between Scottish and English universities is now costed at a minum of £93m, based upon likely fees.

Other scenarios, of course, produce other costings.

Tories say these figures understate the real problem. They say it is essential to guarantee that Scotland's universities can compete - and that they need, consequently, an additional source of funding.

It would appear pretty plain that the SNP is likely to steer clear of a graduate contribution.

The Education Secretary Mike Russell promises a statement by the end of this month - but his comments to the effect that the gap is less than feared in some quarters would suggest that he and his party will follow their instinctive approach. No fees, no graduate charge.

Which lands Labour and the Liberal Democrats with a particular challenge.

If the SNP says no to a graduate contribution, are they really going to align themselves with the stated Conservative approach?

Again, each promises to absorb the latest figures - which is entirely reasonable.

But electoral politics would suggest that they also might well steer clear of promising/threatening any charges.

For the LibDems, this issue is toxic, given events in England.

Might they not wish to set themselves clearly apart from their Westminster colleagues - on the very issue which has caused them such trouble south of the Border?

Ditto Labour. If the gap really is £93m - which some dispute - would they really risk a potentially vote-losing move towards announcing a graduate charge?

We will know, of course, in due course as this intriguing election continues to take shape.

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