Tuition fees for Scottish students remain off the table the SNP’s Education Minister Michael Russell confirmed yesterday.
Launching the Scottish Government’s Green Paper that set out a range of options for the future of Scotland’s universities Mr Russell insisted that the SNP would not go down the same road as that taken by the UK coalition government who have introduced tuition fees of up to £9,000 for students studying in England.
Mr Russell said that Scottish Higher Education must maximise its role in the country’s future success, use its current resources more effectively and ensure it remains nationally and internationally competitive.
The Cabinet Secretary warned that there was no ‘silver bullet’ to address the challenges faced and announced that a short-life technical working group involving Universities Scotland will report to a reconvened cross party summit in February on any possible funding gap which may open up and on the potential to close it through the six sources of income identified in the Green Paper.
The six options are:
- 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 said:
“Our universities deliver tens of thousands of graduates into the world of work every year and carry out not just world-leading, but world-beating, research. It is because of this ‘greater good’ that we believe the state must bear the primary responsibility for funding our universities.
“The challenges facing higher education are clear. The solutions, however, are complex, further complicated by the fact that Scotland does not have full power of its own finances and the £1.3 billion cut to next year’s budget.
“This is why we have encouraged bold and innovative thinking to find a unique solution, encompassing a range of measures to deliver sustainable higher education in Scotland. Only one idea is off the table and that’s tuition fees. With that single exception, today’s paper represents all ideas and options, irrespective of whether the Scottish Government are likely to support them. “
The Education secretary explained that the SNP supported one option contained in the paper which was charging students from the rest of the UK to study in Scottish Universities.
Mr Russell added:
“We do support raising fees for students from the rest of the UK, to ensure Scotland continues to be the best option, not the cheap option, for learners. The details of how that will work are to be considered alongside the other issues, protecting our universities as one of our most valuable assets and ensuring a sustainable future of higher education and the benefits it yields for Scotland.
“This is not a simple issue with a quick and easy solution. There is no ‘silver bullet’, this is why the Green Paper, following wide ranging discussions, is the right and proper way to find the solution and be ready for legislation in the second half of 2011”
Speaking after the launch the SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson – Vice-Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee – said it was a ‘University Challenge’ to Labour and the other opposition parties as they now had to lay out in full their proposals to fund university education.
Commenting Mr Gibson said:
“The Scottish Government’s Green Paper lays out all the options – except tuition fees – for the future of Scotland’s universities and it is also a ‘University Challenge’ to Labour and the other opposition parties.
“Labour and the opposition parties now have to address how they will deal with the issue of university funding and student support. All of them have played their part in imposing debt, fees and poverty on students in Scotland.
“The SNP has made a clear statement to the voters of Scotland: we support the principle of free education and will never introduce tuition fees. “
Mr Gibson attacked Labour’s history on tuition fees and challenged his party’s main rivals to put forward their own proposals.
“Labour are on record saying that they want to see graduates charged for the cost of their education and we all remember their disgraceful tuition fees betrayal after the 1997 election. No mention was made in their manifesto of their plans to charge students tuition fees.
“With the Green Paper published, there is no hiding place for Labour and the other parties. They must meet the University Challenge and make this election a battle of ideas. They must make clear who will pay and how much they will pay under their plans. The question for Labour is do they have the courage to lay their plans before the people?”
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?
Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis 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.”
President of NUS Scotland, Liam Burns said tuition fees were “simply unacceptable regardless of where you come from”, and described fees for other UK students as a “knee jerk reaction”.
Mr Burns 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.”