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Tuesday, 25 January, 2000, 19:34 GMT
Reid fields opposition fees' anger

Dr John Reid Dr John Reid promised "tough decisions" in Scotland

The row over student tuition fees dominated the first Scottish questions of the century at Westminster, with Scottish Secretary John Reid deflecting criticism aimed at the deal.

Dr Reid was asked to justify the fact that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students would have to continue to pay fees to attend Scottish universities, while Scots students would not.

The Scottish Executive faces some hard choices and tough decisions
Dr John Reid
He said the nature of devolution meant the Scottish Executive would have difficult decisions to make and would have complete responsibility for doing so.

Labour's aim, he said, was to increase access to further and higher education for less well-off students.

"The Scottish Executive must find their own way of implementing that objective, that is their right and with that goes the responsibility of explaining it and to say where the finance to fund the changes will come from."

He repeatedly emphasised the point that any decision concerning budget cuts to finance the measures lay entirely in the Scottish Parliament.

No increase in block grant

English MPs expressed concern over possible costs to taxpayers south of the border, incurred because other UK students would still have to pay to attend Scottish universities.

But Dr Reid stressed that there would be no increase in the block grant allocated to the Scottish Parliament and therefore no further cost for taxpayers outside of Scotland.

He said: "Any money to be allocated towards any new scheme on tuition fees will have to be taken from some other item inside the block grant already agreed."

David Blunkett David Blunkett: New funding
Later, Education Secretary David Blunkett announced new funding to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged students in England.

He said 68m would be targeted at full-time mature students, disadvantaged young people and parents on low incomes with children in higher education.

The figure 17m for non-repayable bursaries for mature students in 2000-01 and raising the parental contribution threshold to 20,000 next year.

Mr Blunkett said the latter measure would mean about 50,000 more families on modest incomes would no longer have to contribute towards their children's higher education.

Cubie compromise

The Scottish Executive compromise over student tuition fees, which preserves the coalition in the Scottish Parliament, was reached by Labour and the Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers.

Under the reforms, the payment of tuition fees by students will be scrapped in time for the beginning of the next university year in September.

Graduates will, however, be required to pay a contribution of 2,050 once their earnings are in excess of 10,000 a year.

The new measures will affect Scottish students resident in Scotland and studying at one of the country's universities as well as EU students studying in Scotland, but not their English, Welsh or Northern Irish counterparts.

The reforms are a result of the Cubie committee report on student tuition fees, although it has not been implemented in full, as students groups desired.
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See also:
25 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Ministers defend fees deal
25 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Anger at 'shabby' fees deal
25 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Students reject Cubie deal
25 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Framework document for wider education access
24 Jan 00 |  Scotland
Scottish tuition fees compromise
20 Oct 99 |  Scotland
Scottish MPs' roles to be defined
24 May 99 |  UK Politics
MPs meet devolution with evolution

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