Minister rules out tuition fees

Image caption,
Students in Scotland do not pay upfront tuition fees

Scotland's Education Secretary Mike Russell has restated his opposition to upfront tuition fees for university students.

His comments came as Lord Browne's report on funding in England said universities should be able to charge unlimited fees.

Mr Russell said many different solutions were being considered.

But, he said, Scottish tradition meant the state should fund higher education and not the student.

Mr Russell told BBC Scotland: "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."

Mr Russell said a "green paper" on plans for higher education would be published in December.

He added: "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."

Higher education

However, Labour's Des McNulty said the SNP government was not showing leadership on the issue.

He said: "Scottish universities are going to be left in the lurch because the SNP has not even got to the point of discussing principles yet, let alone bringing forward proposals.

"It is their job, they are in government, they are the people responsible for dealing with higher education.

"The fact is we have been left behind England and Wales. They have got the Browne review. We have got nothing in place."

Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith MSP said: "The crisis in funding is here and now, and Scotland needs leaders, not followers if we are to chart a way forward. The silence so far from the SNP and Labour has been deafening."

She added: "The Scottish Conservatives reject upfront fees, and we reject a pure graduate tax.

"But if we are to remain world class, that means there has to be more funding available to our universities.

"We accept there is going to have to be a graduate contribution, repayable from future earnings and at an affordable rate, and so far we are the only party prepared to grasp the thistle and put our cards on the table."

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Margaret Smith said: "It is crucial that people from all parties talk to each other and work together to come up with a funding solution that is in all of Scotland's interests.

"Most importantly, we have to keep Scottish universities competitive and widen access to the poorest young people.

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

Lord Browne's review calls for the £3,290 cap on tuition fees in England, which students borrow in loans, to be scrapped.

Instead it proposes a free market in fees - setting out models of charges up to £12,000 a year for a degree course.

'Not fees'

In Scotland, tuition fees were abolished in 2000, two years after their introduction by the Blair government.

A one-off graduate endowment fee of just over £2,000 was scrapped by Scottish ministers in 2008.

On Monday, Sir Andrew Cubie, whose inquiry in 1999 recommended the abolition of up-front tuition fees, said it would now be difficult to sustain a system which did not incorporate fees.

He said: "I think we're back to a point where graduate payments are required."

However, he stressed payments should be made by graduates once their income had reached a certain point, and should not be upfront tuition fees.

Sir Andrew insisted any contribution should be "graduate payments, not fees".

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