Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees?

SNP education secretary Mike Russell has announced plans that could see students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who study in Scotland being charged £9,000.

While students in Scotland continue to enjoy free tuition, the SNP’s education secretary, Mike Russell, has announced plans that could see students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who study at Scottish universities being charged anything up to £9,000 a year. Based on a standard 4-year Scottish degree, this would total £36,000 for an entire course.

Making the announcement as part of a package on the government’s policies on higher education, Russell argued:

“Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities. However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities.

“We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students.

“The Scottish government will continue to protect free education in Scotland and has been clear for sometime that we will not reintroduce tuition fees. This has provided families and young people across Scotland with stability and clarity for some time.

“University recruitment drives have now started. Today, we are providing clarity for potential students from the rest of the UK that making the positive choice to study in Scotland will not cost more than it does in their home nation. We expect the average fee for Scottish universities to be lower than the average in England and Wales.”

Responding to the announcement, Labour’s shadow education secretary, Ken McIntosh, thought to be a potential leadership contender at Holyrood, argued that introducing fees which in total could be more than those paid south of the border could have a detrimental effect on attracting students across the rest of the UK to Scotland.

He explained:

“Allowing Scottish universities to charge students from the rest of the UK up to £36,000 for a degree is one sure fire way to discourage these students from studying in Scotland. There is a real danger that the SNP’s plans to over-charge students from the rest of the UK will be counterproductive. At this level, they risk deterring students from studying in Scotland altogether and having the perverse effect of making the funding gap bigger not smaller.

“We need to introduce fees for the rest of the UK students to prevent Scotland’s institutions being seen as a cheap option, but this goes so far that these students could be put off all together. A delicate balancing act needs to be struck but the Cabinet Secretary has got it far wrong.”

For the NUS, whilst ultimate responsibility for the move lies with Westminster, its president-elect in Scotland, Robin Parker, argued that the announcement was introducing the very markitisation of higher education the SNP has previously campaigned so vigorously against.

Commenting on the education secretary’s announcement, Parker said:

“Ultimate responsibility for this decision on fees lies with the Westminster government…However, in being forced to make a decision, we believe the Scottish government has made entirely the wrong choice…There’s more than an element of hypocrisy here.

“The SNP rejected a market in tuition fees for Scottish students prior to the election, only to introduce one immediately after for students from the rest of the UK. This seems incredibly unfair, especially when the SNP have talked so much about the importance of access to university based on ability, not ability to pay.”

In a telling response, however, the Conservative education spokeswoman, Liz Smith, sought to highlight not the impact it would have on students, but on how the policy was part of the SNP’s overall strategy of stirring up resentment against Scotland across the rest of the UK.

She argued:

“Mike Russell says he wants access to higher education to be based on the ability to learn, not on the ability to pay. It appears this does not apply to students from the rest of the UK. If we were a separate nation then this could well be illegal. It simply does not send the right message when we are targeting a certain group of students to carry the can for all others.

“If Mike Russell’s plan is to stir up resentment in the rest of the UK against Scotland then he might well succeed. This measure is ill-thought out, vindictive and does nothing to address the long term funding pressures faced by the higher education sector in Scotland.”

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