SNP education secretary rejects Browne’s findings for Scotland

If the publication of Lord Browne’s review has proved controversial in England, in Scotland the mood music from the SNP Government has been positively frosty.

If the publication of Lord Browne’s review into higher education funding has proved controversial in England, in Scotland the mood music from the SNP Government has been positively frosty. Education Secretary, Michael Russell has already announced that the Scottish Government intends to publish a consultation Green Paper on the future of higher education at the end of the year, in recognition of the funding pressures being faced by Scottish Universities.

However, in the country where tuition for Scottish student studying in Scottish institutions is free, the minister has now rejected outright the Browne proposals.

Speaking to BBC Scotland, Mr Russell said:

“The principle being pursued by Lord Browne is to transfer the cost of higher education from the state to the student. I don’t think that is what the people of Scotland want to happen.

“So how do we get this right? The best way is to make sure the higher education sector in Scotland is debating the issue. I accept there will have to be major changes in Scotland in higher education, I think we all know that after the Labour mismanagement of the economy.

“There isn’t any one solution, there are a range of solutions that will change the cost base of higher education. But what we won’t do is have upfront tuition fees.”

The Scottish education secretary’s comments come just a day after Sir Andrew Cubie, the architect of the free tuition policy implemented by the first Labour/Lib Dem coalition in Holyrood, warned that public spending cuts would make it very difficult for the Government to be able to continue with free tuition.

Writing in The Scotsman, he argues:

“English universities seem likely to benefit from the Browne review and thereby have the ability to charge significantly enhanced fees, potentially both variably and without any annual cap.

“What percentage must be made available from such additional fee income for student support and widening participation remains uncertain, but will be significant. The prospect of both future enhanced current cash flow and greater borrowing ability for universities in England seems real.

“If, however, the trailed outcomes of Browne are, in due course, implemented and the gap between the probable immediate cuts and enhanced income flows after 2012 come forward, there are significant dangers for higher education in Scotland.

“There needs to be a higher level of contribution from (Scots] graduates on high incomes. Clearly detailed calculations need to be made on contributions.”

For Labour, shadow education secretary Des McNulty, whilst opposing Lord Browne’s proposition of an increase in tuition fees, voiced his concerns that universities in Scotland are being left in limbo, saying:

“Scottish universities and colleges are now on the brink of a crisis and still (Education Secretary) Mike Russell either doesn’t know or won’t say which way his government is headed.”

It is a sentiment that is shared by the Conservative spokeswoman, Liz Smith, and for the Liberal Democrats, Margaret Smith called for a cross party consensus on the issue, though insisting:

“Going to university must be decided on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”

Until a formal consultation is begun and firmer proposals made, the debate on higher education funding in Scotland looks set to remain somewhat stuck in the mud.

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