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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17 Responses to “Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees?”

  1. Carl Brood

    Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees? – Left Foot Forward


    Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees?


    Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees?

  4. R Carter

    In Liverpool today the march to protect pensions was massive. But people where also talking about tuition fees and how they should be scrapped.
    The students I spoke to where adamant there is no way they are going to repay their huge debts, most where going abroad. I think the present system will collapse, and all that debt will have to be written off.
    It is all a matter of priority’s do you want to fund the bankers buy a new version of Trident, or have a decent NHS and free Uni for our young people.

  5. Leon Wolfson

    Well, Liz Smith, that’d be because your policy on charging £9k/year in the rest of the UK is, itself, “ill-thought out, vindictive and do(es) nothing to address the long term funding pressures faced by the higher education sector”.

  6. Ed's Talking Balls

    I would much rather fund Trident than fund all students. Certain degrees, and certain students, are all well and good. But such large numbers, often studying useless courses, are a different matter altogether.

  7. Leon Wolfson

    Of course, slash the future of this country, Ed! Can’t have new business coming from outside the core subjects – like, oh, in media – or fill those graduate roles with people from the UK and not the EU!

    In 2000, we had 37% graduating from University. Now it’s 35%, at the same time as our economic rivals have had soaring rates. And, note, we were under-invested by international standards in 2000 – the system was very efficient.

    It’ll still be government-funded now, and more expense to boot, but it’ll be replacing things like pension savings for graduates, which will be a further burden on the state.

    Oh and – Trident is, to my mind, arguable IF the UNSC is altered to be more inclusive first, so we don’t lose out in a major way on the international stage from it’s non-renewal.

  8. Ed's Talking Balls

    I think it’s a bit of a leap to suggest that not funding all students (but still expressing a desire to fund some) would ‘slash the future of this country’. For a start, we weren’t international paupers, lagging behind our rivals, in the days before spurious 50% targets with regard to graduates.

  9. Leon Wolfson

    No, because other countries were not close to our levels of graduates.
    Now they are. In fact, they’re well ahead in many cases.

    And instead of raising our rates to compete, you want us to slash our economic throat. Directly funding only a tiny number of subjects, as the coalition is, is going to do a massive amount of damage to the University system (in fact, it already is, because of the front-loaded cuts), and students in those subjects are still having to pay 9k/year.

  10. Leon Wolfson

    Also, to be clear, the type of jobs done in Western economies has shifted. There is an element of “degrees for the sake of demanding a degree”, but there has been a genuine, strong shift towards jobs which have traditionally required a degree.

    I’m not willing to give sources at this time, because I hope that a documentary about this – on which I’m acting as a researcher – will get funding shortly.

  11. Ed's Talking Balls

    The only data I can find on graduation rates is the oft-cited OECD table:

    Its data only stretches back to 2000 so, unless you have a different source or alternatively can navigate the OECD website better than me (quite possible, I assure you!), I’m not sure how you know that in years gone by ‘other countries were not close to our level of graduates’. Historically we have not had such high levels and were not committed to targets, but relatively we had a stronger economy than now.

    As for comparisons with other countries, I noted that USA, Germany and Switzerland all have lower graduation rates than us. Those countries are successful with high standards of living, so I am comfortable that falling graduation rates won’t ‘slash our economic throat’. I don’t believe that, for example, Arts degrees from shoddy institutions such as the University of Bedfordshire, give (or indeed ever gave) us a competitive advantage.

    I can well believe that the type of jobs done in Western economies has shifted but I can’t believe that it has shifted in such a way as to mean that 50% of school leavers now require a degree.

    Our economy needs hard workers and entrepreneurs, primarily, and these are skills not taught at universities. Of course there is still a need for university graduates, but not the numbers which recent governments and the current one suggest. I think it’s wrong that some young people are told by government that going to university is some sort of panacea; plenty will graduate with degrees the mention of which will see their CVs binned by employers, while they will have racked up colossal debt for their troubles. That’s unfair. One of the few things which Willetts has said which has my support is the idea that students, like typical consumers, should be given full information about their products (in this case, their degrees).


    Scotland – home to the most expensive degrees?

  13. Leon Wolfson

    I’m looking back to the 80’s and 90’s, not just from 2000. By 2000, we were already in a bad position. We need educated workers, not “hard” workers who will do minimum-wage jobs, that’s following America’s path.

    The entire reason people are going for “easy” degrees is for two reasons. One, there is a quota system which has left good universities unable to expand. Two, with even the current £3300 fees (high, internationally!), there has been a noticeable shift away from “hard” subjects.

    The trends you’re complaining about are due to government policy. Proper management can lead to a far higher percentage of people doing solid degrees, and create true competition for places – allowing deacent universities to expand.

    Instead, under the Government plans, we’re going to see degrees become impossible to fail if you turn up (since every failure is a lawsuit, which Universities can’t afford) and “cheap” degrees with little merit spread rapidly, with the solid, but not right-at-the-top, Universities destroyed.

    As to the rest, Germany’s industry hires foreign graduates, and America has a vast, vast number of low paid workers and structural issues which ours look mild, at a serious comparison. The Swiss have a very different system, but are going to have issues too – especially with ongoing EU banking changes.

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  15. Dee

    Why does a left-leaning blog always report the SNP badly when they are in fact more left-leaning than the Labour party. Just because England is a right-wing country doesn’t mean those with left-wing views need to talk down other countries who are more left.

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