The student presidents of 13 Scottish universities and colleges are lobbying the government against its "morally indefensible" proposals for tuition fees for Scottish honours degrees.
The Scottish Office is to waive fourth-year fees for Scottish students, but there will be no similar concession for students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. By European law, other European Union students will be exempt.
The presidents of higher education institutions affiliated to the National Union of Students Scotland have called on education secretary David Blunkett to ensure that all UK students get the same funding for studying in Scotland. They stress that the Garrick committee, the Scottish arm of the Dearing inquiry, said students should not be financially burdened by the four-year degree.
Richard Baker, deputy president of NUS Scotland, said: "We are concerned that the Department for Education and Employment seems to be ducking this issue by referring protests to the Scottish Office." Scottish education minister Brian Wilson had agreed to underwrite the Pounds 1,000 tuition fee for students from Scotland, and the DFEE should do the same for students in the rest of the UK, Mr Baker said.
The government line is that the Scottish Office proposals reflect the distinctive school system north of the border. A comparable fee waiver is inappropriate for students from elsewhere in the UK because they study A-levels over two years rather than Highers, which can be taken in one. Mr Wilson has said that many more A-level entrants could be admitted to the second year of Scottish degree courses.
But David Corner, secretary of St Andrews University, told a recent meeting of students that the government's stance implied that Scotland's school system is an inadequate preparation for higher education. "Dearing and Garrick found things in Scotland that they liked, such as the degree of breadth combined with specialisation, and the much greater articulation between further and higher education. The structures we are putting in place deny those successes, and in the end are going to make it rather more like England."