Scottish colleges are still awaiting clarification of how the Government's announcement of an extra Pounds 165 million for higher education in England will apply to Scotland and, if so, how much will go to HE in the further education sector.
The sum includes Pounds 4 million for an extra 1,000 students to take up places on sub-degree programmes, mainly in FE colleges. Scottish colleges account for 30 per cent of all HE students, rising to 40 per cent for those who start their HE courses in the colleges and then move to university.
In its response to the recommendations of the Dearing and Garrick committees on HE, the Association of Scottish Colleges gives a broad welcome to many of the proposals, particularly for the expansion of non-degree provision and for part-time and late entrants. But its support is qualified by continuing concerns over funding.
Colleges are now pressing the Scottish Office to clear up the confusion over tuition fees and student support. Ministers have already agreed that those embarking on higher national courses this session will not have to pay towards tuition fees if they move on to a full-time degree course next year.
The ASC, while endorsing the idea of graduates contributing to the costs of their tuition, opposes the Government's preference for basing this on parental or spouses' income. Student contributions should be based on their own incomes once they have completed their studies and found a job, as the reports recommend, and the Government agrees, should apply to the maintenance elements of loans.
Official estimates suggest that 40 per cent of students will pay nothing towards their tuition and only 22 per cent will pay the full Pounds 1,000, a quarter of the costs of a full-time degree. Ministers also point out that part-time FE students and adult students already make a contribution towards tuition costs.
The ASC stresses, however, that Pounds 1,000 is nearer 40 per cent of the cheaper cost of HE provision in FE colleges. It urges the Government to consider a lower tuition fee for advanced college courses not only to provide greater incentives for students to obtain higher national qualifications but to "give better recognition of the greater value-for-money which provision for these qualifications represents".
The colleges also call for part-time and distance learning HE students to be eligible for tuition or maintenance loans in the same way as full-time students.
The ASC adds: "Students from economically and socially disadvantaged backgrounds are known to be particularly averse to loan commitments against what they will regard as uncertain prospects for future earning".