Fee row threat to Scots coalition

September 17, 1999

Political wrangling over Scottish student finance has intensified with the passing of last Friday's deadline for submissions to the Cubie inquiry, launched by enterprise and lifelong learning minister Henry McLeish.

The debate has raised questions over the future of Scotland's coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, has reiterated the party's commitment to abolishing fees. "One possible consequence is that the partners in the coalition agreement have to go their separate ways," he said.

Labour had not made its submission to the inquiry at the time of going to press. But Scotland's three other parties, who together can outvote Labour in the parliament by 73 to 56, all insist that fees must be axed.

The Liberal Democrat submission condemns tuition fees as "an aberration without electoral mandate", deterring potential students from lower income backgrounds and mature students. It wants the Scottish Parliament to underwrite the "Scottish anomaly" fourth-year fees for students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and funding lost to institutions replaced.

It believes it is not feasible to reintroduce maintenance grants. There should be a shift from discretionary hardship allowances to a clear national system.

The Scottish National Party calls for a means-tested grant of up to Pounds 1,500 for the 66,000 poorest students. Any extra support should be matched by boosting bursary funds for further education students. The SNP also wants Westminster to restore housing benefit and income support for students across the country.

Scottish Conservatives propose a Pounds 1,000 award to those qualified for higher education to "treat students as independent adults, reward academic excellence, encourage self-help and remove a tax burden from families."

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