English, Welsh and N Irish 'face Scots degree fee rise'

From Democracy Live: Education Secretary Michael Russell rules out up-front tuition fees for Scots

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Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who go to university in Scotland could face annual fees of up to £6,000.

The plan is part of a series of Scottish government proposals on tackling a funding gap in higher education.

Other options in a new Green Paper include a graduate tax and increased support from business and donations.

Ministers have ruled out re-introducing up-front tuition fees for Scots.

Scottish students studying at home currently pay no tuition fees, while other UK students currently at Scottish universities pay £1,820 per year for mainstream courses.

The Scottish government aims to implement its changes in 2012, in line with the reforms in England.

'Fee refugees'

The UK government's move to raise tuition fees in England to as much as £9,000 a year has prompted outrage among students and violent protest.

The Scottish government says the state should be the main provider for education, with access to it based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

Education Secretary Mike Russell's Green Paper outlined six options for future funding:

  • The state retaining primary responsibility for funding
  • The state retaining primary responsibility for funding, but with a form of graduate contribution
  • Increasing income from students coming to Scotland from other parts of the UK
  • increasing donations and "philanthropic giving"
  • Increase investment from Scottish businesses in higher education
  • Make more efficiency savings in the sector

Mr Russell has expressed concern that rising fees in England may lead to a flood of so-called "fee refugees" coming to study in Scotland.

Analysis

So where are we on university funding?

More to the point, will there be the much-trumpeted consensus - or will the different parties arrive at different options by the Holyrood elections in May?

We know that the Tories back a graduate contribution: that is a debt falling due when the individual is earning a certain amount. Details to follow.

We know that the SNP hope to avoid a graduate contribution - although it is listed as one of the six funding options within their Green Paper.

They hope that the others will fill the gap in funding potential between Scotland and England, obviating the need to levy a charge on graduates.

We know that Labour believe, as things stand, that a graduate contribution will be required.

We know that the Liberal Democrats are working towards precise policy with an emphasis upon enhancing university access for those from the most deprived backgrounds.

Unveiling his proposals at the Scottish Parliament, said the reforms were also about excellence in higher education, adding: "We must of course encourage others to study here and encourage more of our students to study abroad.

"But we must never become a cheap option. Our excellence must be our beacon - not our price."

Mr Russell branded the move in England "flawed", saying the state had abdicated its funding responsibility, that it was based on the "mistaken belief" that only individuals benefited from higher education and that it affected the ability of poorer people to study.

"After all, higher education is one of our most valuable national assets, it would be wrong of us not to protect its value and enhance its reputation," he said.

"So that is why the state assuming the prime funding responsibility, coupled with this Parliament's rejection of tuition fees, lies at the heart of the paper I am launching today."

Mr Russell, who said there was "no silver bullet" to solve the funding issues, also called for political consensus and "absolute clarity" from parties before the Scottish Parliament elections in May next year.

He said not all the ideas in the green paper were supported by the government but said a re-elected SNP administration would legislate in the second half of 2011.

Graduate contribution

The three main opposition parties challenged the education secretary to give a definitive answer on whether the SNP's preferred option would include some form of graduate contribution.

Start Quote

Why has it taken the government three years to produce what is little more than a discussion paper”

End Quote Elizabeth Smith Conservative education spokeswoman

Labour education spokesman Des McNulty said: "This document contains no models, no work-out options and very few numbers. It could have been produced months ago. It takes us no further forward."

Conservative education spokeswoman Elizabeth Smith said: "Does the Scottish government's preferred option, option one, mean that graduates will now have to make a contribution, and if so how much?

"Secondly, why has it taken the government three years to produce what is little more than a discussion paper, when the universities sector and my party were warning of the urgent need for solutions to address that issue all that time ago?"

Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis called on the Scottish government to recognise the inequalities within Scotland.

He said: "Only one in five young people from deprived backgrounds go into further education, compared to four in five from affluent backgrounds, and that's when university places were free."

Liam Burns, President of NUS Scotland, said tuition fees were "simply unacceptable regardless of where you come from", and raising fees for other UK students was a "knee jerk reaction".

But he added: "If fees go up in Scotland for students from the rest of the UK, it will be directly down to the Scottish Liberal Democrat and Conservative MPs that voted for the trebling of fees in the rest of the UK.

"We warned that this would be the consequence of voting to treble fees in the rest of the UK and today, the seven Liberal Democrat MPs in Scotland that failed to keep their pledge to vote against increased fees should hang their head in shame."

Here is a selection of your comments on this story.

I am interested to know how long one has to live in Scotland before going to university to qualify as a Scottish resident for tuition fee purposes.

Alasdair Baxter, Nottingham

It's really very simple: The English voted for a Tory Government, not the Scots. So the English have to take the consequences - the highest tuition fees in Europe. Isn't this what devolution is all about?

Richard, Edinburgh

When the coalition cut 80% of higher education finance in England, this meant the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish Higher Education budgets also got this cut under the Barnett Formula. If fees are increased for English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students studying in Scotland, this is because the coalition has cut the Scottish education budget and the Scottish Parliament has to find ways to deal with this. The same thing may happen in Wales and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately for English students, the coalition knew this cut in the higher education budget to the devolved parliaments would mean English students getting charged more across the UK and that English students' only chance of a reasonably priced degree would be to study in Europe. It is the coalition that has caused these problems for the English students - not the devolved parliaments.

Mel Kelly, Irvine, Ayrshire

Just treat UK students equally in UK universities. Don't indirectly use extra fees as a way to disadvantage people of unwanted national origins. Clearly we need to respect each other more in the UK.

Matthew Aldridge, London

That seems fair. Scotland has - and always has had - some of the best higher education provision in the country. I believe the Scottish education budget is separate from the English, so it seems right that only Scottish tax-payers (or their children) should benefit from that budget. My own view is that vocational education at all levels should be free at point of use - and only ability and willingness to work at it should be the measure of whether a person can take that course. To manage that we would have to be willing to take a very hard line on non-attendance or slack work and expect any students that drop out through lack of effort to pay back the cost of their tuition. I would like to see all universities offer exchanges with each other or supported distance learning so that those who need to can live at home and still access the best learning. That would open up more opportunities for parents, carers and those who have to continue working while learning. It's important that we get the right people onto the right courses and having rich parents is no measure of usefulness, intelligence or willingness to put effort in.

Sandy Fox, Derby

Westminster already gives the Scots around 20% per person more than the English to spend on state funded services. Having got more than their fair share of tax revenues, enabling them to educate their students for free, they now plan to penalise English students by charging them more than their own kids or those from the rest of Europe! How fair is that? How stupid are the English to carry on funding them?

"MaryMayFly", Harpenden, Herts

This is totally wrong. What's good enough for Scotland should be the same in England. My husband's Scottish and living in England, so why don't the same conditions apply to our daughter? As far as I'm concerned the sooner we have another election the better, as Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have totally let all of us down, lied and gone back on their promises. What are they doing to help disabled adults between the ages of 18 and 62 years of age? I can't even get sheltered housing for us in Milton Keynes.

Jane Petrie, Milton Keynes

I don't understand how Scottish students pay less, and also Welsh and Northern Irish students. Why should there be special treatment for certain parts of the UK, when we are actually one unified country, supposedly? If these aforementioned states were made independent of England, would they survive? A fair shouldering of the burden is required as the costs are simply too high. Many students will have prepared for the fees to be around £3,290 per year, but the increase is next year - there has been no time to adapt to the changes. If it was imposed incrementally - say £300 to 500 a year, that would allow prospective students to save more money.

Paul D, Jersey

Please tell me how universities in Scotland are funded differently from England. Are British taxpayers as a whole funding the Scottish universities to discriminate between Scots and Europeans on one side and English and Welsh on the other side? I think it's disgraceful and given a vote I would be in favour of the devolution of Scotland, to raise and spend its own taxes without any representation in the British government.

Mark Bennett, Bromsgrove, Hereford and Worcester

Surely this is racial discrimination. Someone should explain to the Scots that they are subsidised by tax payers in south east England and that they are part of the UK? One way to solve this is to reduce the subsidy to Scotland. It is totally absurd that English students are treated so badly compared to students from all other EU countries. It is very difficult to believe.

Annoyed English Taxpayer, Surrey

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