Scots are edgy over top-ups

February 20, 2004

Scottish universities are seeking guarantees of extra government funds to help them stay competitive as England anticipates extra cash through top-up fees.

Jim Wallace, Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, has pledged "a considered response" to the introduction of top-up fees in England, likely to be in 2006.

The Scottish Solutions report of the Parliament's enterprise and culture committee says that if the Scottish Executive aims to expand the economy it should "significantly increase" its real-terms investment in higher education.

In his response to the report, Mr Wallace said that the executive accepted that additional investment would be required. But he did not comment on the sector's bid for an extra £100 million. He said that even if the UK Parliament approved the higher education bill, top-up fees would not generate extra income for English institutions until 2006-07.

"This means that Scotland has time to get this right. It is too important to respond in a knee-jerk way," he said.

Mr Wallace said the Scottish Solutions report would be considered alongside the executive's forthcoming higher education review during the next spending review.

A spokesperson for Universities Scotland said: "It is a sign of good government in Scotland that the important issue of the future funding of higher education will have been examined in depth by two inquiries.

"Nobody wants to see this issue resolved in a hasty manner but the fact that there are two inquiries running is an indication of its importance and urgency. Universities need reassurance about their long-term future."

Mr Wallace also ruled out an above-inflation increase in the £2,093 graduate endowment - which is ring-fenced for student support - in contrast to first minister Jack McConnell, who has refused to rule out a rise.

Mr Wallace said that even "jacking up" the endowment 50 per cent would raise only an extra £7 million by 2009-10.

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