Russell resists pressure on student fees

18th March 2011 at 00:00

Education Secretary Michael Russell has resisted pressure to make Scottish students pay for higher education - but those from outwith Scotland will be charged more.

He told the Scottish Parliament this week: "We will not introduce tuition fees, upfront or backdoor, or any form of graduate contribution."

Instead, fees already paid by students in Scotland from other parts of the UK will increase, raising up to pound;62m.

Students from other parts of the European Union do not pay anything at present, but Mr Russell intends to investigate the possibility of a "service charge", similar to a system in Ireland.

The subsidy paid for EU students cost taxpayers pound;75m, Mr Russell said. He hopes the service charge, only to be introduced if the Government could afford Scottish students' share, would raise pound;22m.

Mr Russell wants universities to help close a funding gap between Scotland and England, which he estimates could grow to some pound;202m.

They should explore "philanthropic giving, increasing engagement with businesses, greater efficiencies (saving up to pound;26m) and more shared services".

The Government's commitment to the Scottish four-year degree was restated, but Mr Russell wants to give students more freedom over how long they take to complete their studies, partly by increasing the subjects covered by the Scottish baccalaureate.

The Government will continue increasing grants, aiming to introduce a pound;7,000 "minimum income entitlement" for the poorest students.

Universities Scotland cautioned against Mr Russell's "optimistic" use of figures, while the Scottish Conservatives accused him of "fantasy arithmetic". Labour accused him of hypocrisy by calling for no compulsory redundancies but demanding budget savings at the same time.

SERVICE CHARGE - THE RATIONALE

Under European law, if a country charges for a core part of education, other EU citizens must be treated equally with domestic students. Thus, if Scottish students are exempt from tuition fees, so are other EU students; a legal loophole allows other UK students to be charged.

However, charges for services not part of core education would be exempt under the EU treaties. Under the Irish system, a service charge is levied on undergraduates, with Irish students means-tested on ability to pay.

henry.hepburn@tes.co.uk.

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