Tuition fees in Scotland for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland
Recent events in England have created an issue for Scottish higher education. While in Scotland the principle of free access to universities is a central part of public policy, English higher education institutions can now charge tuition fees of up to £9,000, and most as we know have chosen to set fees at or near that level. This created a potential problem for Scottish higher education: if there were no fees for students from the rest of the UK, or low fees, the student places in Scottish universities would come under pressure from demand from south of the border, and this would create significant problems for Scottish students.
On Wednesday the Scottish Government took a significant step towards addressing this concern. The announcement by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, Michael Russell MSP, that students from the rest of the UK will be charged up to £9,000 to study at Scottish universities will protect student places while allowing the institutions to recruit students from the rest of the UK in a sensible manner. While this is a difficult decision, it is the right one and Scottish universities have welcomed the announcement.
In England there has been a rush by the majority of universities to charge the full permitted £9,000 tuition fee. I am inclined to doubt that, in relation to fees for rest-of-UK students, this will be reflected across all Scottish universities. I would at any rate hope and expect that many will set fees at below this maximum level. All will have to take decisions on this over the next two or three months, so that students who will shortly make choices about where to study in 2012 will have this information available to them.
Given the rather chaotic higher education policies being implemented in England, it is not easy for Scotland to maintain a different ethos in its system. So far it has been able to do so, and while there are some issues to be addressed, Scottish universities are able to operate in a much more stable and predictable setting than elsewhere in these islands. That is worth preserving.