Page last updated at 13:33 GMT, Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Students 'should pay degree fees'

Academics are concerned Scottish universities may struggle to compete

The man who chaired a landmark inquiry into student finances has called for Scottish graduates to contribute towards the cost of their degrees.

Up-front tuition fees were abolished in Scotland in 2000 following recommendations from Sir Andrew Cubie. The SNP then scrapped all tuition fees.

Sir Andrew has urged MSPs to consider making students pay after graduation.

He believes the proposal should form part of a full-scale review of how universities and students are funded.

Sir Andrew, who is currently in India, makes the call in a recorded video to be shown at a National Union of Students Scotland reception at Holyrood.

He said he did not believe in charging students while they were studying, but said the time was right to consider asking graduates to contribute to the cost of their degrees.

Top-up fees

Student leaders and the Scottish government are against charges for education.

Tuition fees were introduced in 1998, by Tony Blair's Labour government.

However, in 2000, the Labour and Lib Dem coalition in Scotland abolished up-front fees north of the border, following the Cubie inquiry, and replaced them with a graduate endowment to be paid after graduation.

While top-up fees of up to £3,000 were introduced in the rest of the UK in 2006, the following year the SNP administration abolished the fees altogether.

For Welsh students at universities in Wales there is a subsidy that covers all but £1,255 - though this may end.

A major review is pending in England, with a possibility that fees could rise by several thousand pounds a year.

No political party in Scotland supports the introduction of top-up tuition fees here
Murdo Fraser
Scottish Conservatives

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "We have made clear that access to university should be based on the ability to learn not the ability to pay and by abolishing the graduate endowment fee, we have restored the principle of free education in Scotland, benefiting up to 50,000 students and graduates.

"We have no plans to re-introduce graduate contributions or tuition fees."

However, academics fear Scottish universities could become under-funded and unable to compete effectively on the world stage.

Labour's education spokeswoman Claire Baker backed the call for a review.

The Scottish Conservatives said they had been calling for an independent review into the funding of higher education since August 2007.

Murdo Fraser, Tory education spokesman, said: "No political party in Scotland supports the introduction of top-up tuition fees here.

"However, if we are not to have top-up fees, then some other source of funding has to be found, and it is probably unrealistic to expect all the additional cash to come from the taxpayer."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats said they had abolished tuition fees when they were part of the coalition Scottish Executive.

Education spokeswoman Margaret Smith said: "We know that living costs are a huge problem for students. We are working to ease student hardship, not compound it with more tax."

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