Brian Wilson announces a 'made in Scotland' pilot scheme today. Neil Munro reports
Brian Wilson, the Education Minister, will today (Friday) unveil a "made in Scotland" initiative to pilot free tuition for up to 3000 part-time students on undergraduate university courses.
Mr Wilson will step off a flight from the United States, where he has been leading an industrial delegation, to announce his plans at a Scottish Office conference on wider access to higher education.
The Minister believes the initiative - which is not being pursued in England - will be a robust answer to his critics. They have accused him of restricting access to HE and landing students with thousands of pounds of debt by introducing tuition charges and abolishing the student grant.
But he is likely to get a frosty reception from further education colleges, who seem to be excluded despite Government praise for FE in widening access to higher education in Scotland.
In his speech Mr Wilson is expected to confirm a pound;6 million package over three years to introduce fee waivers for unemployed and low income part-time students. Some 2,000 places would be reserved for new students and 1,000 for those already studying.
Mr Wilson told The TESS last week: "This is a matter of substance because these are students who have always had to pay tuition fees. But it is also symbolic because they are people from low-income backgrounds, which therefore emphasises the fact that my primary aim is to widen access to higher education."
The additional cash will also be used to employ up to 20 course development staff in HE institutions to cope with the expected extra demand.
The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council has also responded to ministerial guidance by allocating pound;1 million a year for five years to help universities widen their enrolments.
Participation in HE from the lower socio-economic groups in Scotland rose from 4 per cent of students in 1980 to 15 per cent in 1994. But the disparity between the affluent and disadvantaged is as clear-cut as ever, despite the years of grants and free tuition. Only 11 per cent of young people from the bottom two social groups go to university compared with 80 per cent from the top two groups.