Magazine article Public Finance

Students United

Magazine article Public Finance

Students United

Article excerpt

ON November io, 2010, 2,000 Scottish students travelled to London for the landmark National Union of Students demonstration against the coalition government's plans to treble tuition fees. As rector of Edinburgh University, I was with them - though, in case you were wondering, that wasn't me on top of the Millbank Tower with the anarchist flag.

But why were we there at all? After all, tuition fees were abolished in Scotland in 2000. One of the English demonstrators even carried a placard saying: 'Sod this, I'm off to Scotland.' Surely, the lucky Jocks should maintain a discreet silence, since they don't face post-graduation debts of £40,000.

Or do they? For there is great confusion in Scottish higher education right now. There is a presumption among many university vice-chancellors that, while up-front tuition fees will never be restored, some kind of graduate contribution will be introduced by whichever party wins the Scottish election in May. Education Secretary Mike Russell has invited staff, students, and opposition parties to come up with a 'distinctly Scottish, egalitarian solution' to the funding problem.

And a problem it will be. Already, the Scottish Government has had to compensate universities for the £3,250 that Scottish students do not pay toward the cost of their tuition. The prospect of meeting the potential top rate £9,000 shortfall per student is causing sleepless nights for university principals. If alternative income is not found, then crisis measures might be inevitable: teaching cuts, the end of the four-year degree, closure or merging universities. Prominent Scottish academics have already warned of a slide to mediocrity.

But the Scottish National Parry's policy remains that tuition fees will not be restored. In 2007, First Minister Alex Salmond even abolished the £2,000 graduate endowment that Scottish graduates paid toward the cost of providing bursaries and student support. …

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