The Cubie report

December 24, 1999

The Independent Committee of Inquiry into Student Finance is the first independent committee established by the Scottish Parliament. It has been an honour for me, and for my fellow committee members, to undertake such important work for both the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament so soon after devolution.

We make our recommendations with considerable confidence. We have paid close attention to the views of many individuals and organisations in Scotland, including all of the Scottish political parties. We have travelled throughout Scotland to listen to diverse opinions. We are certain that many will agree with our conclusions. We likewise hope that those who may not agree will respect the open, accessible and independent manner in which we have undertaken our task.

The recommendations that we make are unanimous. We have debated, long and hard, issues of principle that relate to all aspects of student funding. We have developed considerable detail in the 52 recommendations we make in this report.

We have no doubt that the student or parental contribution to tuition fees in full-time higher education should be abolished for Scottish students. Government reached the view, after the Dearing and Garrick reports, that fairness demanded a contribution in respect of fees. We consider the government unwisely put aside Dearing's recommendations for a graduate contribution and chose an approach that has become unpopular in Scotland. We are clear, as we have listened to Scotland, that the present arrangements are broadly discredited, add to anxieties about debt and create undue anomalies.

We are equally clear that the up-front contribution should be abolished for well founded reasons. We are not persuaded that a principle of free education should apply in all circumstances. Indeed, fairness suggests that those who gain from higher education should make an appropriate and timely contribution in respect of the benefits gained. After all, these benefits are significant and not available to all. To ensure graduates who benefit from higher education make a contribution towards its future costs, we propose a Scottish Graduate Endowment. However, full-time further and higher education students, other than postgraduates, should have the opportunity to attend college or university without paying tuition fees.

While the committee was created against the backdrop of the tuition fee issue, our terms of reference and recommendations go substantially wider. We recommend clear guiding principles which have already been extensively welcomed in their draft form. These principles urge Scotland to maximise opportunities for all. To achieve our guiding principles, the student support system must change and should be more focused and better targeted. To counter "loan aversion" and facilitate greater access, we propose the introduction of non-repayable bursaries for some full-time higher education students. To target support more effectively, we propose to introduce means-testing of the present loan entitlement in higher education.

Our recommendations will be to the benefit of society and to the individuals concerned. They extend many of the Scottish Executive's initiatives, and introduce new measures which take forward aspects of their policy. We have also taken on board much of the thinking provided to us by Scottish political parties. Three of the main political parties in Scotland put forward arguments for change and provided estimates of the costs. We have accepted some of their arguments. Overall, we have provided costed recommendations which in our view will find widespread support.

Too many with talent in Scotland are denied access to further and higher education, either after secondary school or in later life. These potential students, society and our economy suffer as a result. This is particularly so in further education where we have much to propose.

The student experience is diverse. Such diversity includes being among students of different ages from different social experiences, from elsewhere in the United Kingdom and from overseas. We are confident that our proposals will ensure that this diversity can continue. This breadth of experience is to be treasured, but nonetheless requires to be funded. Therefore it should be seen in the context of our guiding principles, which we have adopted as a framework against which to set policy recommendations. We intend our recommendations to allow for the present diversity. They will also facilitate the changes that we expect in the greater access to further and higher education in Scotland following the adoption of our recommendations. Such flexibility should also allow for changes in learning and teaching practices, and a greater affinity between further and higher education.

While it would have been easy for us to recommend some relatively minor changes and still meet our terms of reference, the extent of the need for change identified by us requires a bolder response. I believe that that is what we present in this report. While we have not been able to develop all of the detail required for some of our recommendations in the five and a half months available to us, we make firm recommendations where further work needs to be undertaken. This requirement for further thought reflects the determination of the committee to present robust and thoroughly considered recommendations and not any lack of ambition to see a more enabling student support system created as soon as possible.

We encourage you to adopt our guiding principles and keep them in mind as you consider the detail of our recommendations, including the 13 costed recommendations. The majority of our recommendations are within the competence of the Scottish Parliament in terms of the Scotland Act 1998. As our recommendations form a package of proposals we urge the Scottish Executive, if our proposals are acceptable, to encourage UK government to consider our wider UK recommendations.

Finally, may I pay unqualified tribute to my colleagues on the committee who have, to the detriment of their other interests, worked with great diligence to enable this report to be presented timeously. We came together with different thinking, created a collegiate spirit and offer our findings unanimously. I would also like to commend the work of the secretariat, who have supported the committee tirelessly and without whom this report would not have been possible. They have brought knowledge, patience and enthusiasm to our work and on behalf of my colleagues I wish to express our warmest appreciation for their efforts.

Andrew Cubie, convener.

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