Universities responded to today’s announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Education, which, most significantly, included proposals which will permit universities to change the fees paid by students from the rest of the UK who choose to study at university in Scotland.
The plans, laid out by Mr Russell, enable Scotland’s universities to determine the fee-levels for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland from academic year 2012/13. Scotland’s universities have agreed to voluntarily cap fees at a maximum of £9,000 per year in 2012/13.
The need to change the fee level paid by students from the rest of the UK to study in Scotland has been driven entirely by changes to university funding brought forward by the UK Government. English universities are set to charge annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year from 2012/13. Failure to raise the fee-level for students from the rest of the UK coming to Scotland (which is currently £1,820) would have meant Scottish universities would be viewed as a ‘cheap option’, contrasted with England, putting untenable pressure on places at Scottish universities.
The proposals, as outlined today, will protect the number of places available to Scottish students and will go some way towards redressing the teaching funding cuts which Scottish universities have faced in the tough financial environment. They will also give Scotland’s universities the flexibility to make fee decisions that are appropriate to each institution, to ensure that cross-border flows of students remain manageable.
It is too soon to speculate what level of fee Scotland’s universities might set but Principals across the sector have already confirmed they will bring forward proposals for bursaries and scholarships to help support students from the rest of the UK facing increased costs. The proposed model also protects Scottish students from being squeezed out of Scottish universities by removing rest-of-UK students from the current system of funded places.
Professor Seamus McDaid, Principal of the University of the West of Scotland, said:
“Given changes to fees in England there was simply no way we could keep the status quo in Scotland. Scotland was left no choice. The system would certainly crack under the pressure. First and foremost any changes to the system have to work for students. That means students from the rest of the UK but also Scottish students at Scottish universities. It’s also important that any change works for all of Scotland’s universities; not just those that already attract high numbers of English students. Today’s proposals meet both of these needs and looks to be a sensible way forward in a very difficult situation for the Scottish Government and Scottish universities.”
Professor Ian Diamond, Principal of the University of Aberdeen, said:
“Universities are in no doubt that today’s announcement on rest-of-UK fees represents a very difficult choice both for government and for universities. But equally, there is no doubt that change is absolutely necessary. Aberdeen, alongside all Scottish universities is proud to welcome students from across the UK and we hope to see this continue as it benefits all our students’ experience. However, the decision to apply to university in Scotland must continue to be based on academic considerations, not because it is a cheaper option than elsewhere in the UK.
“Keeping a single flat-rate fee for students from the rest of the UK is no longer an option. It wouldn’t work for prospective UK students, who are not a homogenous group, nor would it work for Scotland’s universities – who are far from homogenous themselves. We need to make this new system work for everyone and we at Aberdeen, as with other universities will all be considering what they can offer in terms of bursaries and scholarships for all students. It’s important that able students from every part of the UK, including Scotland, can study at Scotland’s great universities, whatever their background. ”
Responding to the announcement, Professor Pete Downes, Principal of the University of Dundee, said:
“Today’s announcement gives universities the chance to strike what would always have been a very delicate balance; on the one hand ensuring that university places for Scottish students who don’t come under undue pressure which is a top priority, and also ensuring that students from the rest of the UK still want to study in Scotland and aren’t disadvantaged relative to the situation they face in the rest of the UK. Much detail is still to be worked out but it’s important that the Scottish Government has created the flexibility needed for each university to strike a balance that will work for them and their students.”
Universities welcomed the urgency the Scottish Government has given this issue following the election. Alastair Sim, Director of Universities Scotland said:
“We welcome the fact the Scottish Government has made this a priority and has set out their plans for rest-of-UK fees as soon as possible. Potential students across the UK need clarity on what fees are likely to apply from next year when they start making their applications this autumn. The timing of this announcement is also important to help universities plan for the year ahead.”
“Now that the Scottish Government’s intentions are known, Scotland’s universities will give careful consideration to what fee level is appropriate for their institution over the summer. Principals have voluntarily assured that fees for rest-of-UK students will not exceed the English maximum.
“Universities are also conscious that the clock is ticking on student applications for next year and so will want to make their intended fee levels known no later than the end of September. I’m certain many universities will be making announcements ahead of this in order to ensure that applicants from the rest of the UK are as well informed as possible as they make their choices. However, this comes with the proviso that indicative fees cannot be confirmed until the Scottish Parliament has decided whether to approve the Scottish Government’s proposals.”
- Around 20,000 students from the rest of the UK study at full-time at undergraduate level in universities and so would be eligible to pay higher fees under the new arrangements. Currently, students from the rest of the UK studying in Scotland, pay £1,820 a year or £2,895 if studying medicine. However annual fees introduced in England from 2012/13 are currently estimated to average out at £8,665. The significant disparity renders the current system unworkable.
- The upper-limit on fees at £9,000 for 2012/13 has been agreed voluntarily between Scotland’s universities. It is understood that the Scottish Government plans to introduce primary legislation in time for academic year 2013/14 to enforce this cap for future years.
- Scotland’s universities will make decisions on appropriate fee levels over the summer. Principals have already indicated their intention to consider additional support in the form of bursaries and scholarships to support students from the rest of the UK with the higher charges. It is expected that indicative fee levels will be made known no later than 30 September.
- Around 73 per cent of students studying in Scotland at full-time undergraduate level are concentrated in only five Scottish universities. The system, as proposed, will remove students from the rest of the UK from the ‘funded-places’ funded annually by the Scottish Government and competed for by Scottish, RUK and EU students. This will allow the Scottish Government to redirect a significant proportion of the teaching grant current spent subsidising students from the rest of the UK and reinvest it in university teaching across all of Scotland’s universities