SNP: state should shoulder funding burden, but need not go it alone

Scotland’s government believes that the state should retain “primary responsibility” for funding higher education, but could still introduce a graduate tax.

December 16, 2010

The governing Scottish National Party today published a Green Paper with six options for higher education funding.

It aims to introduce the changes in time for the 2012-13 academic year, when English universities will begin charging students fees of up to £9,000.

The paper includes proposals to increase the fees that Scottish universities charge English students in a bid to ensure that Scotland does not become a “cheap option” for students fleeing higher charges south of the border.

Michael Russell, the Scottish education secretary, defined the SNP proposals against the policy of higher fees for England advocated by the coalition government.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, Mr Russell said that the Westminster policy was “socially divisive”. It was “wrong because it abdicates the state’s responsibility as the primary funder of higher education” and “wrong because it is based on a mistaken belief that the only beneficiary of higher education is the individual”.

Some of the Green Paper’s six funding options could be combined.

The first option is that the “state retains the primary responsibility” for funding, which is described as “the government’s preferred option”.

The second is that the “state retains the primary responsibility but requires some form of graduate contribution”.

The other options are “increasing income from cross-border flows of students”, “increasing donations and philanthropic giving”, “increasing support from business” and “increasing efficiency”.

On English students, the paper says that there is “scope to increase income to the sector from other UK students if we raise our fees to make sure Scottish universities do not become a cheap option”.

Reports have suggested that the government is considering charging English students fees of up to £6,000.

In his statement, Mr Russell said that the state’s retention of primary responsibility for funding “does not have to mean that the state is the only funder”. However, other forms of funding must not erect barriers for those from lower-income backgrounds, he added.

The Scottish government will now consult on the options outlined in the Green Paper.

Mr Russell said a working group involving Universities Scotland would feed into an all-party summit in February, aiming for “a consensus approach for implementation in the second half of 2011”.

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