Student contributions in Scotland? Perhaps, perhaps not
Scotland’s Education Secretary Mike Russell appeared on Wednesday of this week before the Scottish Parliament’s Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee and gave very full answers to questions put to him by Committee members. Given the somewhat uncertain position right now for Scotland’s universities there is bound to be strong interest in what he said, and whether his answers might give any clues as to future funding policies.
The following passages in his answers probably sum up his evidence before the Committee quite effectively:
‘I believe that the state has the primary responsibility for education in Scotland. Therefore, I do not automatically accept that there should be a graduate contribution. However, I want to consider the matter in the round, taking account of all the issues. As you will know if you have been following what I have said on the matter, the argument is not just about students paying money. The first question that we should ask ourselves in Scotland is this: what is higher education for? Why is the state investing in it? What is it going to produce? A debate that is predicated only on the question of how much students should pay is not a debate. There are, for example, issues of accelerated entry, of how the baccalaureate fits in and of whether universities’ work overseas produces a balance of funding. A range of such issues must be considered. I do not automatically accept that Scotland should have a system of graduate contributions…
I have a more general and important point to make. Higher education is a vital part of our national life and I will not rush into a decision about funding patterns without listening very carefully to all the arguments. I have shown myself to have an open mind. I believe that I have shown leadership in ensuring that the debate has started, has progressed, has a form and will come to a conclusion. I have guaranteed that to the sector.’
The Cabinet Secretary clearly is not in favour of tuition fees, but is not ruling out fees or graduate contributions entirely. Usefully, his comments show a willingness to look at the broader pedagogical and policy issues of higher education. In these very difficult times, there should be an interesting debate ahead.