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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 15:03 GMT
Urgent summit on top-up fees
Glasgow University sign
Universities like Glasgow will be looking at the changes
University principals in Scotland are to meet with ministers to discuss the likely implications north of the border of introducing top-up fees in England.

Iain Gray, Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, will hold the urgent summit on Thursday.

The meeting was announced after the UK Government decided to press ahead with a funding shake-up for England.

We should be taking the most able students wherever they come from

Sir Graeme Davies
Universities will be allowed to charge tuition fees of up to 3,000 per year, which could leave students with average debts of up to 15,000.

Education Secretary Charles Clarke told the Commons on Wednesday that different universities will be able to charge different fees for the first time.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, formerly known as the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals (Coshep), said there was no "enthusiasm" north of the border for top-up fees.

However, he added: "There are funding difficulties in Scotland which also need to be addressed.

"We want to see a socially inclusive education sector in Scotland, but we also need to be competitive within the UK and the rest of the world."

'Fee refugees'

In Scotland up-front tuition fees were never introduced for Scottish students.

Mr Gray said the executive and the higher education sector in Scotland was not in favour of them.

He added that ministers would be publishing the findings of its review of higher education north of the border in March.

It has been working with an expert panel and holding discussions with key interest groups on a wide range of topics.

Iain Gray, minister for lifelong learning
Iain Gray: Review under way
"I very much value the good relationships we have developed since devolution with Scottish students, staff and institutions.

"That is why I have written today to the key representative bodies for higher education, offering an early opportunity to brief me on what they believe to be the most important issues for Scotland from the white paper and discuss how we best involve them in sensibly considering those," said Mr Gray.

There are now fears of an influx of English "fee refugees" - with some talk that there might have to be a quota system of some sort.

But the current principal of Glasgow University, Professor Sir Graeme Davies, said he was against quotas.

"We should be taking the most able students wherever they come from.

Future debate

"But the situation in Scotland is complex, we are a diverse sector. So, we will have to watch very carefully what happens."

He acknowledged that if top-up fees were introduced in England they could have a "real impact" in Scotland.

Glasgow University graduation
Universities in Scotland have funding problems
Sir Graeme added that the higher education sector north of the border "must not be disadvantaged in comparison with England".

"If we were we would not be able to retain the best staff and they are the people who drive the research agenda, they drive the teaching agenda and to some extent they drive the social inclusion agenda," he said.

The spokesman for Universities Scotland said its policy group is expected to meet within the next week to discuss the matter.

And in early February all of Scotland's university and college principals will debate the changes and their possible implications north of the border.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  Education correspondent Martha Fairlie
"There are fears that English students will turn to Scotland"
  Professor Graeme Davies
"I am against top-up fees in principle"

News and analysis of the government's plans for higher education
See also:

22 Jan 03 | HE overview
20 Jan 03 | Education
14 Jan 03 | Education
11 Jan 03 | Mike Baker
Internet links:


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