'Mockery' made of inquiry

January 28, 2000

Student support: Cubie compromise for Scotland, Blunkett boost for rest of UK

Scottish students reacted with anger at the Scottish Executive's refusal this week to implement in full the Cubie report on student financing. But higher education principals cautiously welcomed the executive's alternative proposals as "securing quality in the short term".

Hours before the executive unveiled its proposals, student leaders from across Scotland lobbied parliament in an endorsement of the Cubie committee's proposals. They pledged to pay Pounds 3,075 as a graduate contribution when their salaries topped Pounds 25,000 and on condition the proposals were implemented in full.

The executive wants to see graduates contribute Pounds 2,000 to an endowment scheme once their salary tops Pounds 10,000 in return for abolishing tuition fees for all Scottish full-time students at Scottish institutions from this autumn.

Scotland's enterprise and lifelong learning minister, Henry McLeish, said: "As an incentive to participation, those exempted from payment of the endowment will include mature students, lone parents, disabled students and students on HNC/HND courses, bringing the total to almost 50 per cent."

The executive boasts that no graduate will have more debt than they would at present. But some will be eligible for less loan.

Mr McLeish pledged to the parliament that he would consult on whether Scottish students studying elsewhere would be entitled to hardship bursaries.

Committee convenor Andrew Cubie said: "The executive has not gone as far as our report suggested ... But overall I welcome the acceptance of significant elements of our recommendations."

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and AUT Scotland attacked the lowering of the contribution threshold.

The Cubie proposals totalled Pounds 71 million, while the executive scheme will cost Pounds 33 million, net of Pounds 17 million from endowment contributions. "There is Pounds 33 million of new money that we have to find from our existing budgets, and it won't be painless," Mr McLeish warned.

About 10,000 young people from poorer backgrounds will win an access payment of Pounds 2,000 a year, while institutions will run a Pounds 10 million discretionary bursary scheme for mature students.

Coshep welcomed the Scottish executive's proposal to underwrite the Pounds 42 million income stream from tuition fees. But director David Caldwell said:

"What it does not answer is where continuing investment will be found."

Opposition parties condemned the proposals as a "shoddy package" aimed at salvaging the coalition between Labour and the Liberal Democrats. But Liberal Democrat Nicol Stephen, depute minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said that far from being a compromise, it was "a better and more progressive package" than the policies of either party at the outset.

But student leaders claimed the Cubie committee's widespread consultations had shown a public consensus for its proposals.

Hubert Grealish, Napier University's student president, said: "All the effort that has gone into this inquiry from students and the public has been made a mockery of. The report cost almost Pounds 1 million. The loss is far greater than economic and the fight is not over yet."

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