Scotland’s universities say they are suffering “financial stress” under current funding arrangements.
Universities Scotland, which represents the top educational institutions north of the border, has called on the Scottish Government to balance its policy of no student tuition fees with appropriate investment, warning that Scotland’s world-class academic reputation is at stake.
Alistair Sim, the Director of Universities Scotland, told Sky News: “It think we’re seeing that there’s some financial stress in the system at the moment.
“We’re certainly making an argument to Scottish Government that if you really want to make sure that we sustain our position, contributing as much as we can to inclusive economic growth, you’re going to have to invest.
:: Universities warned over 67% dropout rates
“Let’s make sure, at least in real terms, we’re maintaining investment at current levels, even in current difficult circumstances.”Mr Sim called the no-fees policy a “fair political choice”, but added: “Let’s make sure that we’re backing that up with the resources to keep Scottish higher education really world class, really competitive and as widely accessible as we can make it to the people of talent.”
In Scotland’s higher education establishments, students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to pay tuition fees of around £9,000.
Only Scottish students studying for a first degree benefit from the policy of free tuition north of the border, as well as students from European Union countries. This is in accordance with EU law – it’s only within the United Kingdom that the Scottish Government can differentiate.
Sky News gauged the view on either side of the ‘fees divide’ among students starting their 2017/18 academic session at the University of Edinburgh.
:: Quiz: Do you know the real value of university?
Image: Scottish students do not pay tuition fees
Ruby Kelman, studying French and Italian, is from Leicester and so is paying tuition fees. She said:
“It creates a strange dynamic at university. It’s lots of people paying different amounts – some none, some loads for exactly the same education and that feels a bit strange and it’s a bit tense sometimes.”
Ben Cunningham, studying electronics, is from the Scottish Borders and so pays no fees. He said: “I think that makes sense. If I want to go to an English university, I have to pay £9,000 a year.
:: Sky Views: U-bends not uni could be way to go
“If it was free for the rest of the UK, most English students would come here and there wouldn’t be any places left. It’s how you spend your money – the Scottish Parliament has a budget, it chooses to spend some of it on tuition fees. Westminster could easily do the same for English universities.”
Andrew Dickie is studying for a Masters in International Development, for which he’s paying tuition fees. As a native of Edinburgh, he didn’t pay fees for his undergraduate degree. He said:”I wouldn’t have been able to go to university had I not had free tuition fees. It is a Scottish Government piece of legislation that allows Scottish students to come to University.
Image: Ben Cunningham is studying electronics
“It’s a devolved issue and that’s what they’ve chosen to legislate on. It’s up to the UK government if they want to introduce that for everyone else.”
Eve Brandon, studying history, is from Taunton in Somerset and so pays fees. She said: “I always expected to pay fees, so it’s not really in the forefront of my mind. I’m generally okay with it.
“The Scottish degree system makes up for it. I guess it is unfair and it does create a dynamic – having conversations about money do take on a certain slant when it comes to tuition fees but, other than that, I don’t think it’s my biggest problem with the education system.”
:: Sky Data poll: One in three say uni ‘not worth it’
Critics of Scotland’s SNP Scottish Government point to studies that have shown poorer students are borrowing most student loans and that fewer of them end up in university education compared to south of the border.
Currently, the bursary available to students from households with an income lower than £18,999 is £1,875.
Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray MSP told Sky News: “The problem we have with the SNP is yes, they support free tuition but they haven’t really increased funding to universities and, worse than that, they’ve slashed in half the grants which are available for low-income students.”Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP, Scotland’s education minister, defended her Government’s record. She said: “While the UK government has ended bursaries for students within England, we have increased the threshold for bursaries in Scotland.
Image: Ruby Kelman is studying French and Italian
“We’re 10 years into Government and we are already taking concerted effort to ensure that we’re dealing with debt in students, that’s why we’re looking to increase and have increased the amount of bursary for the poorest students. But again, we’re always challenging ourselves to see what more we can do.
“That’s why I’ve asked an independent review to look at bursaries, not within just within higher education but also in our colleges as well. We’re very keen to support our colleges and their higher education income as well.”
Source: Sky News