… And in Scotland?
In the meantime, while in England and Ireland politicians agonise over university funding and tuition fees, the issue is coming to a head in Scotland also. Universities Scotland has, according to media reports, submitted comments to the Scottish government setting out its concerns about the funding deficit that has led some universities to take emergency measures including the closing of departments and reductions in staffing. The Principal of the University of Glasgow has warned that his college will run out of cash in 2013 unless something is done. However, the SNP government has regularly repeated its commitment to free higher education, and has suggested various other ways of increasing revenues for the institutions.
A straw in the wind, however, is the tentative change in the position adopted by the Herald newspaper. Until now it has been a staunch supporter of free higher education and has argued repeatedly that this is part of Scottish culture and should not change. Yesterday for the first time it adoped a somewhat different position in its main editorial:
‘… It may be that the unthinkable must become the thinkable and we charge Scotland’s students a fee. However, this would represent a deep ideological shift in Scottish society and it must therefore be a last resort. Before we take it, we must hear from the SNP and every other party on where they stand on this issue. Free higher education is a much-valued principle in Scotland that is now under serious threat. We must know what our politicians propose to do next.’
Interestingly this editorial was published in its print edition only and is not on its website.
Those who have argued passionately for many years for free access to higher education for all, including the wealthy, will find it hard to move away from this position. But all over the industrialised world, as universities are called upon to be innovators and lead discovery for the benefit of society, governments are finding that letting them do so is more costly than taxpayers can easily afford to support by themselves. It was never likely that Scotland could stay immune from this. But it does now have a chance to tackle this much better than England has done, and that surely is an objective worth pursuing.