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Is Scotland crying wolf on top-up fees?

A major inquiry by a parliamentary committee is being launched to find whether Scottish universities are "crying wolf" when they say they will suffer from the introduction of top-up fees south of the border, Olga Wojtas writes.

The Executive axed tuition fees in 2000, making good the shortfall to institutions. But universities warn that they will become less competitive if English institutions win extra funds through fees. They also fear an influx from students in England anxious to escape the levy, meaning fewer places for Scottish students. But Alasdair Morgan, convener of the Parliament's newly established enterprise and culture committee, said:

"What we've got to determine is are these (English) changes going to be disadvantageous to the Scottish system or is the (higher education) establishment just crying wolf?"

The heavyweight cross-party committee, which includes two former ministers, is seeking views on the nature and degree of any competitive disadvantage.

It wants "detailed and specific evidence" which may reveal a differential impact on different types of institution.

The committee has called the inquiry "Scottish Solutions", underlining its keenness to receive proposals on how to combat any difficulties. "We want to encourage some lateral thinking," Mr Morgan added. "If there is a problem, how do people get out of it? We want people to start thinking about creative and innovative solutions rather than problems."

The committee has no intention of considering the reintroduction of fees, however. "That's not on the agenda," Mr Morgan stressed.

Submissions should be emailed to by September 30. Further information from Simon Watkins, 0131 348 5207,

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