Uprising and controversial debate over the future of university funding

By Jenny Kassner

The government’s announcement last week to increase tuition fees in England up to £9,000 has caused debate and uprising in the UK. Especially the Liberal Democrat’s decision to back the rise, despite original election pledges to stand against any increase of tuition, has sparked controversy.

The situation in England is believed to have severe consequences on the Scottish system of higher education. Scottish universities already have to face budget cuts of £150million which will cause staff redundancies and a decline of quality in higher education degrees. In addition, English competitors would be able to raise money through a rise in tuition fees which would leave Scotland disadvantaged.

Liam Burns, president of NUS Scotland, spoke of so-called “fees refugees” from England that will be forced to go North of he border to escape the high tuition fees in their country.  “If Scottish MPs vote ‘yes’ to the Browne Review, or even just higher fees, they will be plunging their constituents who study in England into crippling levels of debt, steal tens of millions of pounds from Scottish students loans and grants should the repayment threshold increase, and fuel calls to increase fees for English students studying in Scotland, many of whom will be their constituents”, Mr Burns said.

The Scottish parliament is planning a green paper to continue the debate in Scotland. “It is crucial that people from all parties talk to each other and work together to come up with a funding solution that is in all of Scotland’s interests”, said Margaret Smith, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for education and MSP

“Most importantly, we have to keep Scottish universities competitive and widen access to the poorest young people” Ms Smith added, “Going to university must be decided on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”

The SNP pledged to stand firmly against the rise in any tuition fees in Scotland. Mike Russell, SNP MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Education said: “Scotland has a proud tradition of free education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”

“SNP MPs are absolutely right to take a firm stance against these moves. I hope other Scottish MPs follow suit”, Liam Burns commented.

Thousands of students and members of academic staff from all across the UK will unite in London tomorrow to march against education cuts and rise in tuition fees. It is to be seen if the public disapproval is going to have an effect on the government’s decision.