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Senior Tories attack Scottish government's "discriminatory" higher education policy

By Joseph Willits 
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RIFKIND NEW (1) Senior Conservative party figures, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, and John Redwood have entered a fierce dispute emerging over planned tuition fees in Scotland.  The proposal by the SNP Scottish government, would mean students from the rest of the UK would have to pay tution fees of up to £9,000, whilst Scottish students (and other EU students) would be eligible for a free university place, subsidised by the UK taxpayer.

Former Scottish Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind described the proposal as “grossly unfair” whilst former minister John Redwood went even further and accused the SNP of preying on nationalistic tendencies and its attempts to “radicalise” the English against the Union.

The SNP government in Scotland risks intensifying the row, and are perhaps deliberately doing so, over Scottish education being heavily subsidised from Westminster.  There is a loophole in European law which has enabled the Scottish government to enforce this policy.  As Scotland is not an EU member state, there is no requirement for it to treat students from other parts of the UK equally, forcing English, Welsh and Northern Irish students to pay whatever the Scottish government decides.

Whilst some have argued that the proposal is further evidence of an anti-English political approach to politics by the SNP (perhaps radicalisation against the union), George Eaton in the New Statesman describes it as "simply aimed at maximising revenue for Holyrood".  Eaton also argues that "for the left, Scotland should serve as a reminder that tuition fees are a political choice, not an economic necessity." 

Aside from the issue of Westminster subsidies in the Scottish education system effectively funding discrimination, previously, criticism emerged from within Scotland itself.   Back in June 2010, Scottish thinktank, Reform Scotland suggested it was unfair that the taxpayer footed the whole bill for university in Scotland, and that the policy of no tuition fees in Scotland as a whole was unworkable.

Lizsmithmsp Scottish Conservative  Education Minister, Liz Smith, MSP has slammed the “shambles which is the SNP’s policy on higher education funding”.

This follows the decision by human rights lawyer, Paul Shiner, to launch a legal challenge against the Scottish government’s tuition fees policy, charging students from the rest of the UK, to study at Scottish universities.  Shiner’s argument is that current higher education policy in Scotland goes against the European Convention on Human Rights, particularly with regard to how it discriminates those from poorer backgrounds from the rest of the UK.

Liz Smith MSP has said that she is “not in the least bit surprised to hear there will be a legal challenge” highlighting the issue of a clear “discrimination” and discrepancy between students from the rest of the UK, and those from Scotland and the EU.

The concerns being raised from Smith, are not just immediate ones.  She said that it was “likely to distort the university admissions process” as a whole, and that students were being sent a message from the Scottish government that “financial considerations matter more than academic merit” if Scottish universities “have to look to fee-paying students in order to obtain greater income”.  The problem, she said, was “entirely the fault” of the SNP Scottish government.

A spokeswoman on behalf of the Scottish government has denied various accusations of discrimination, and said that tuition fees are “based on ‘ordinary domicile’ not nationality”, and that in “an ideal world, no students would pay fees.”  She also added that their “main priority” was to “protect opportunities for Scottish students to study at Scottish institutions by maintaining free education north of the border.”

There is more information on this issue in the Scottish Herald and the Scotsman.


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