Amnesty for 900 who put off course

Just 900 Scottish school-leavers on deferred university entry will benefit by the Secretary of State's decision on Wednesday to grant a funding amnesty to students taking a year out between school and university.

Figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show some 19,000 students across Britain will take a year off studies but the Scottish figure is only 877 for the coming session, fewer than 5 per cent of the total. The longer four-year honours degree in Scotland is said to a principal reason why most Scots head straight to university.

Fears were raised about the first year of tuition fees in 1998 but the Scottish Secretary confirmed that students who have been guaranteed a place for next year by August 1 would not have to pay. Donald Dewar said they would be treated in the same way as students entering courses next month.

Mr Dewar said ministers considered the problems of "gap" students along with the recommendations of the Garrick and Dearing reports for the reform of student funding. Scottish gap students would not be disadvantaged because they had chosen a Scottish university.

Meanwhile, the SNP has called on ministers to delay reform of higher education until a devolved parliament is established in Edinburgh. Janet Law, the party's education spokeswoman, said a Scottish parliament should make its own decisions on the principle of free education. The SNP is opposed to tuition fees. "A Scottish parliament would have responsibility for higher education and therefore be able to make its own decisions about the proposals of Garrick and Dearing," she stated.

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