Students training as physical education teachers are among the first to be hit by the funding crisis in higher education and will have to pay for what has hitherto been a free service during their course.
As the Commission on Scottish Education and university principals back plans to make students fund part of their tuition costs, it has emerged that Moray House Institute of Education is to charge PE students on the four-year BEd course for medical treatment at the Cramond sports medicine centre.
First-year students arriving for the start of the new academic session next week will be charged a Pounds 70 annual levy, or almost Pounds 300 for the period of their course, which will buy them unlimited access to the medical centre if they are injured. The position of second, third and fourth-year students will be the subject of further talks. Those who are not PE students will be charged Pounds 5 a visit.
Moray House estimates the fees will save Pounds 8,000 on the running costs of the centre, which receives a substantial subsidy.
The decision has, however, been roundly condemned. One senior figure asked: "Where does this lead? Should student teachers of music pay for access to instruments or computer students be charged before they can use the hardware?" Another suggested the move was "a management and financial problem being transferred to the students".
Louise McCullough, vice-president of Moray House Students' Association, commented: "The last thing you need to worry about when you are injured is whether you can get through your course." She predicted that students would go to sports clubs for free physiotherapy or use the NHS, thus denying the institute the extra income it hopes to generate.
Moray House says it has no option but to charge for a service which is not integral to teaching and learning. It is reviewing other activities for the same reason, a condition of its grant from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. In common with other teacher education centres, Moray House will have its transitional "safety net" funding withdrawn next year.
Jim O'Brien, vice-principal at Moray House, said the institute was the only teacher education institution in the UK that offered free treatment. "The governors decided, with great reluctance, that it could no longer afford the same level of service and that students should make a contribution," he said.
Mr O'Brien added: "We are trying to manage this contraction in as even-handed a way as possible. It is very difficult and I can quite understand that people find some of the decisions we are being forced to take difficult to accept. "
Charges for PE students in the middle of the BEd course will be phased in, Mr O'Brien said. The institute will also approach sports clubs and organisations to subsidise the clinic, since many students sustain injuries on their playing-fields and not as a direct result of their Moray House activities.
The oppressive arithmetic facing Moray House is further illustrated by the dramatic fall in the number of PE students, from 100 a year a few years ago to 70 now. At Pounds 5,000 a student, that represents a fall in income of Pounds 150,000 a year.
A report to the institute's finance, property and law committee pointed out that medical services in general were more extensive than in other colleges and universities. There could be savings of Pounds 52,000 if the service for sports students was provided on an "insurance" basis and if the medical services were reorganised.