COLLEGES have criticised the Scottish Office's delay in clarifying new tuition fees for full-time Higher National Certificate and Diploma students, saying it is "a month too late".
The Scottish Office has decided that students taking a full-time HNC or HND course this session will be spared tuition fees if they go on to a full-time degree course direct. They will be treated as continuing students.
Bob Kay, chairman of the the Association of Scottish Colleges, welcomed the announcement as "the only sensible decision" to ensure that access to higher education was not at risk.
"However, we are disappointed that the decision has come a month too late for college admissions offices," he said.
Colleges had been inundated with queries from students worried that they would face a bill for tuition fees if they began a Higher National course this year and then went on to study for a degree.
Scottish education minister Brian Wilson acknowledged that HNCs and HNDs were stepping stones to higher education. They were not the conventional entry qualifications but students should not be disadvantaged when it came to the new student support arrangements for session 1998/99.
The Scottish Office has made no announcement on higher education funding in the wake of the Pounds 165 million cash injection for England, Pounds 4 million of which will support higher education in further education colleges.
Mr Kay said that the ASC wanted to ensure that Scottish further education is not overlooked. "Both the Dearing and Garrick reports recognise the work of further education colleges across Scotland in widening access and expanding participation. The government has said that it wants to build on this. This cannot be achieved without additional funding."