Summit held on Scottish higher education funding

students in a lecture Scotland faces a possible funding gap as a result of increased tuition fees south of the border

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The Scottish government is to detail before the dissolution of parliament on 22 March how it will meet an expected higher education funding gap.

Education Secretary Michael Russell made the commitment following a cross-party summit in Glasgow on higher education funding.

Scotland is facing a possible funding gap due to spending cuts and raised tuition fees south of the border.

The summit heard a range of options for boosting income for universities.

It was attended by unions, politicians, business leaders and other representatives from the sector.

The options were contained in a report published by the Scottish government in partnership with Universities Scotland.

The UK government has announced it expects average tuition fees to be around £7,500 per year in England.

Mr Russell said analysis of the report showed the net funding gap based on that scenario would be £93m in 2014/15, while Universities Scotland said its analysis put the funding gap at £202m -assuming fees in England were lifted in line with inflation.

'Sustainable solution'

The education secretary said: "I am delighted that all concerned have welcomed and accepted the group's findings as a basis for finding a sustainable funding solution.

"I will consider the report and the views of all those who have responded before I come forward with a solution before this parliament ends later this month.

Start Quote

As the gap gets larger, most Scottish university principals will take the view it's going to be harder and harder to avoid using a modest graduate contribution”

End Quote Sir Timothy O'Shea Edinburgh University principal

"This has rightly been a lengthy process so that all voices could be heard. But it is now time to gather all of that information and bring forward a concrete, sustainable solution that works in the interest of all."

Speaking after the summit, Edinburgh University principal Prof Sir Timothy O'Shea claimed a "serious commitment" of public funds was needed for higher quality universities in Scotland in the future.

Sir Timothy said: "The report is a very good one. It lays out a number of scenarios and these are absolutely realistic estimates of where we might be. Obviously we have to wait for some key parameters like what the average fee is actually charged in England."

Sir Timothy said a graduate tax could not be ruled out in Scotland to plug the gap.

He added: "I don't think it's unavoidable. Unless the amount of money it takes to run the universities is larger than the amount of money that Scotland has in tax.

"As the gap gets larger, most Scottish university principals will take the view it's going to be harder and harder to avoid using a modest graduate contribution."

'Political choice'

Student leaders said the summit "must finally put to bed the threat of tuition fees".

Phil Whyte, of NUS Scotland, said: "Today's meeting confirmed that the funding gap between Scottish and English universities is much lower than feared and much lower than the figures we've seen recently from some university leaders.

"It's clear that backing tuition fees in Scotland would now be a political choice, not an economic necessity."

Last month, Universities Scotland said unless future graduates paid up to £13,000 for their four-year degrees the number of student places would be unsustainable.

The comments came in a leaked response to the Scottish government's green paper on higher education.

Tuition fees were abolished in Scotland in 2000, two years after their introduction by the Blair government at Westminster.

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