MSPs pull back from motion to axe fees

June 25, 1999

There is widespread relief in Scotland's universities and colleges that the Scottish Parliament has backed off from a proposal to axe tuition fees, which institutions feared would hit their funding.

But the National Union of Students is disappointed by the defeat of an opposition amendment calling for the end of fees. Instead, MSPs voted by 70 to 52 for the fees issue to be tackled in a student support inquiry.

NUS president Andrew Pakes said: "Tuition fees have won a stay of execution in Scotland, but the future of tuition fees is hanging by a worn-out thread. My challenge to the independent inquiry is clear: cut the thread and kill off fees in Scotland."

David Bleiman, assistant general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said: "The independent committee will have the opportunity to abolish tuition fees but also to address the important issues of student hardship. And the wider United Kingdom dimension must not be neglected. Tuition fees are no more popular in England than in Scotland."

Ian Graham-Bryce, convenor of the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals, praised the parliament's "mature decision", and said a move that benefited wealthy students while leaving the poor no better off was not the way to fight social exclusion.

"But that does not mean that we will give the parliament an easy ride if it thinks the issue of student access has disappeared. The battle for the best deal for all students starts here."

The Scottish National Party and Scottish Conservatives challenged the Liberal Democrats to stick to their manifesto pledges to get rid of fees. But Liberal Democrat leader Jim Wallace, who as deputy first minister proposed the successful motion, said nobody was being asked to concede their position over fees in agreeing to set up a committee of inquiry.

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