UK students' financial burden bucks the European trend
In Scotland and England the debate is all about the inexorable rise of university tuition fees - but international research shows the trend elsewhere in Europe has been to do away with fees.
Only 14 out of 29 European countries - the EU member states plus Norway and Switzerland - were charging tuition fees in 2010-11. That marked a drop since 2007-08, when the figure was 18.
The information emerges in a report by the CESifo Group, an international research group based in Germany, which shows that: Austria has eliminated fees for students who finish their studies on time; Hungary abolished all fees by referendum; Greece ended fees for Greeks and EU citizens; and Slovenia did so for postgraduate studies, with undergraduate courses already free. Since 2007-08 there has also been a fall in the number of Germany's 16 states charging tuition fees.
Where countries did have fees, they ranged from less than pound;200 in Luxembourg to around pound;25,000 for Oxbridge graduate programmes.
But European fees were markedly lower than in the USA, where they averaged between pound;7,500 and pound;10,000 and graduate studies at Harvard cost up to around pound;33,000.
Tuition fees in Europe for foreigners or in private universities - of which there are few, if any, in most countries - were considerably higher, and in some cases close to US levels. In Ireland, foreigners from non-EU countries faced fees of up to 36,000 euros (pound;32,000), the highest in Europe.
"This report shows that the majority of Europe values education and understands that fees are bad for fairness and bad for the economy," said Robin Parker, president of the National Union of Students Scotland. "It shows that it's the UK government, not Scotland, that's completely out of step on fees."
It vindicated, he added, the 85 per cent of MSPs who took a stance against fees.
Changing shape of education
"Of all our institutions, public education is the most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould."
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821).