FEARS are growing that the government is contemplating differential tuition fees for a Scottish four-year honours degree for students from different parts of the United Kingdom.
The Garrick committee clearly stated that comparable qualifications should cost the same, wherever they were studied in the UK.
But there are suspicions that government is planning to apply the principle of equity only to Scotland-based students, with those from elsewhere in the UK students obliged to pay for an extra year. Those from other European Union nations would pay the Scottish rate.
The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals meets next week to draw up a briefing paper for MPs, warning of the educational and economic risks of any threat to the cross-border flow of students. About 18 per cent of full-time students in the Scottish tertiary sector come from elsewhere in the UK.
COSHEP has already proposed that all students taking four-year degrees should pay a maximum Pounds 3,000 in tuition fees, and criticised Garrick for leaving the mechanics of equity to the government.
The Association of University Teachers Scotland said English students were welcome in Scotland, and it was crucial for the government to send a clear signal that they would remain welcome.
In a letter to Scottish secretary Donald Dewar, AUTS assistant general secretary David Bleiman said: "I can understand that the question of domicile raises issues of a technical and jurisdictional nature which must be sorted out by government, but politically I am sure that you understand that it would be completely unacceptable for a student from Birmingham or Belfast to pay more in tuition fees to study in Scotland than a student from Berlin or Barcelona."
The Department for Education and Employment and the Scottish Office said this week that no decisions had been taken.
* Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party leader, said student fees and loans would undermine the four-year honours degree, which unlike the English system was in the international mainstream.
Ireland's economic success had been founded on investment in education, with the Irish using Scotland as a model of educational excellence, he said.
"The Scottish parliament will have the power to legislate over all areas of higher education, and the Irish example shows us the benefits of pursuing a different policy from London."