ENGLISH, Welsh and Northern Irish students entering Scottish universities this autumn will pay up to Pounds 1,000 more for their degree than classmates from Scotland and the Europe Union, it has been decided, writes Alan Thomson.
The government eventually persuaded the House of Lords to accept an 11th-hour amendment on the so-called Scottish fees anomaly. The amendment, to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, was accepted without a vote. It was tabled minutes before Tuesday's debate by higher education minister Baroness Blackstone.
Acceptance of the amendment was crucial to ensuring that the bill, which ushers in the income-contingent student loans system and prevents universities from charging more than the prescribed maximum Pounds 1,000 tuition fee, is on the statute books before the start of the new academic year. The bill was expected to receive Royal Assent today.
The anomaly amendment, now part of the new Teaching and Higher Education Act, commits the government to setting up an independent review body within six months. It will try to gauge whether the fourth-year charges faced by English, Welsh and Northern Irish students deter them from studying in Scotland. The review committee must report by April 1, 2000.
It is possible that the review committee will conclude that the Scottish fees policy is a deterrent. Applications from England are already down by 4.1 per cent. Also, most of the bodies that will make representations to the committee have been strong opponents of the policy. They include the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.
Baroness Blackstone told peers that the review would not be cosmetic. She hinted that the government would act upon its recommendations - even if that means ending the anomaly.
Richard Baker, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, was disappointed by the peers' decision but said the union would keep fighting tuition fees and the anomaly.