THE Tories and the SNP united to denounce the Executive's failure to extend the abolition of tuition fees to Scots students at colleges and universities in England and Wales. They were supported by the National Union of Students Scotland.
John Swinney, shadow minister for lifelong learning, said "Cubie minus minus" would create an educational ghetto preventing Scottish students studying wherever they wanted. David McLetchie, the Tory leader, is to ask the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals to investigate the impact on the university system as a whole.
The opposition believes that the decision stems from the insistence of the Prime Minister and the Chancellor that there should be no differential systems of student support in England and Wales which could trigger expensive demnds there.
Scottish ministers insist they had legal advice that, under EU rules, students from other European countries in England and Wales could mount a court challenge claiming parity of treatment with Scots. This could have a potential cost of pound;20 million.
This will mystify Andrew Cubie, himself a lawyer, and the members of his committee who, The TES Scotland understands, had also sought legal advice which led them to believe there would be no likelihood of a successful European challenge to parallel funding systems for students in England and Wales.
Nicol Stephen, the junior minister, admitted he was "disappointed" the Executive could not fund all Scottish students on the same basis. But he maintained that SNP and Tory proposals for the abolition of fees would run into the same European barrier "which would still hit us even if Liberal Democrats had a majority in the Parliament".