The government has sanctioned one anomaly in its refusal to fund a fourth year at Scottish universities for non-Scottish students. But, asks Olga Wojtas, how different is higher education north of the border?
The extraordinary sight of the House of Lords challenging Commons supremacy over the so-called Scottish anomaly springs from the Garrick committee. It warned that Scottish students should not be penalised for taking a four-year degree that was the equivalent of a three-year course south of the border.
The Scottish Office will underwrite the fourth year of tuition fees for Scottish students. While for legal reasons, students from other European Union countries will enjoy the Scottish fee waiver, students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will not.
The House of Lords battle follows Scottish demands for equity that owe as much to self-interest as a desire for fairness. Some 18 per cent of full-time undergraduates in Scotland come from other parts of the UK, and there is alarm that the prospect of an extra year's fees and debts will lead to falling enrolments.
A fee waiver for all students in Scotland would cost an estimated Pounds 2 million. But despite Garrick's concern with equivalent qualifications, the government argues that it would cost Pounds million for fee waivers for all UK four-year courses.
"The Pounds million figure is a distraction," says Ronald Crawford, secretary of COSHEP. "The four-year degree is the norm in Scotland and it's the exception in the rest of the UK. It's inappropriate to consider the two analagously."