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Tories in tartan U-turn on fees

THE Scottish Conservatives will today attempt to win the support of students and parents by publishing a scheme to abolish the pound;1,000 annual tuition fee. The Saltire Scholarship Award, funded by the new parliament, would give the same amount of money to every would-be student who reached an academic threshold.

The TES Scotland has learnt the details of the policy switch to be outlined by David McLetchie, the Tories' Scottish leader. The estimated cost in 2001 would be pound;34 million, to be paid out of the pound;14 billion block grant to the Edinburgh government. Brian Monteith, the party's education spokesman, says it should be the "role of the state to pay for student tuition".

This represents a change of direction aimed at capitalising on opposition to Labour's imposition of fees, which were at first supported by the Tories and even recently by Sir Malcolm Rifkind's policy commission.

All Scottish-domiciled students, regardless of parents' income, would be eligible for a Saltire award, which the Tories say could be presented by the local MSP at an end-of-term prize-giving. The recipient could choose to tour the world, raise a family or work for a number of years before redeeming it at any UK university.

Either the Scottish executive or the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council would administer the award. Unlike tuition fees, which form part of central government funding of universities, the scholarship cash would go directly to institutions.

"We believe that the money should follow the student," Mr Monteith says.

Students would have to have achieved a minimum number of Highers or A-levels. Mr Monteith says that the aim "is to encourage academic excellence and is preferable to giving young people a token wage as some education authorities are contemplating irrespective of Higher exams".

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