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What price a tartan degree?

hould post-school education be free for all? The SNP is proposing it should and wants to scrap the student endowment of pound;2,000 paid back after leaving, scrap student loans and restore grants (page three). Debt is putting people off studying, particularly those from disadvantaged communities, and hindering the Scottish economy, the Nationalists say.

How feasible is it to turn back the financial clock? Next spring, the electorate will hear competing claims for massive state giveaways, including free school meals for all. Free personal care for the elderly proved popular, but more costly than anticipated.

Free post-school education for all has the same populist ring and will obviously prove attractive to young voters. But is this the wisest option? University education, for example, remains a predominantly middle-class experience in contrast to further education where, admittedly, most students do not pay the endowment and rack up such debt.

Ideally, we might want to see free post-16 education but there might be greater educational as well as social benefits for Scotland from backing free meals for all, if it were one or the other. With the SNP closer than ever to partnership in government, Alex Salmond and his team have yet to face the tough choices.

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