Call for parties to reveal university funding plans

Image caption, A cross-party summit on university funding is to be held in Glasgow on Monday

Parties should lay out their university funding plans before May's Holyrood election, a lecturers' union has said.

Education Secretary Mike Russell is hosting a meeting about the issue on Monday but has said decisions will not be taken until the second half of 2011.

However, the University and Colleges Union Scotland said the talks cannot address immediate funding concerns.

Tuition fees were scrapped in Scotland 10 years ago and a graduate fee was abolished in 2008.

However, under UK government plans, some English universities could charge up to £9,000 a year for courses.

This has raised concerns that universities north of the border could fall behind without access to that funding stream and the SNP government has said it is aiming for a "uniquely Scottish" solution.

Mr Russell has said he disagrees with calls for a graduate contribution towards the cost of degrees, but has not ruled it out.

He is meeting education representatives, students and political parties in Glasgow ahead of the publication next month of a Green Paper.

The meeting will involve the University and College Union and the National Union of Students Scotland.

Image caption, Mr Russell said the introduction of tuition fees was not an option which was on the table

NUS Scotland president, Liam Burns, said students needed leadership from politicians.

"When tuition fees have been rejected by students, government and the Scottish Parliament, politicians must be honest about their intentions when it comes to education funding if seeking election next May," he said.

"Kicking this crucial issue into the long grass is simply not good enough."

The UCU's Scottish official Mary Senior said: "The political parties will be represented at the summit and we call on them to set out their plans for higher education funding before the election.

"Staff and students showed the strength of feeling against fees with thousands of Scottish protesters travelling to London and they will not put up with another parliament introducing fees against the wishes of the electorate.

"However, whatever the outcome today, universities face public sector cuts which would decimate our universities.

"We call on the Scottish government to ensure the budget on Wednesday will allow our universities to develop Scotland's new economy."

Mr Russell said: "Only one idea is off the table - tuition fees.

"This Scottish government firmly believes in the principle of the state being the primary provider for education and not the student.

"Equally, we believe access to higher education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay.

"The Green Paper will be published next month and will be representative of all the views held on this important matter."

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