We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:00 pm on 2nd February 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Lord Sutherland of Houndwood Crossbench 3:00 pm, 2nd February 2012

I am very uncomfortable with that. On the other hand, there were reasons, which I shall come to now, for the level of fees being set as it is.

The policy of the Scottish Government and the funding council is such that in the period from last year to next year a gap of roughly £40 million will have opened up in the funding of those universities. The University of Edinburgh, much to its credit-as the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will be pleased to hear-recruits a large number of students from south of the border, and they contribute significantly to the life of that university. That is part of the way in which the university focuses on its United Kingdom, let alone its international, obligations.

With regard to that gap of £40 million, I know it is put about by some that the universities are raiding the coffers of the rich English and that is why they are setting the fees as they are, but that is not the case. A funding gap has been created. I pay tribute to the University of Edinburgh because I believe that at the same time it has put in place the most generous and best scheme for helping students who could not otherwise afford it to come from south of the border. It is a very good scheme which I think could be emulated by others.

Where did this fees level come from? It came from two decisions. One was the coalition Government's decision to increase the fees to £9,000, although I have to say that they were following the example of their predecessors. This is not an argument about whether there should or should not be fees. I resist the temptation to get into that, although I have strong views on it. That was one element of what created this division. The other is that the Scottish Parliament, through its allocation to the funding council, deliberately created a gap in the funding of Scottish universities-it is in its accounts-of over £50 million. It created that gap and in effect instructed the universities to raise the money from students coming from the rest of the United Kingdom. That being so, there is a dual responsibility here, and it simply illustrates the point made more eloquently by the previous speakers about how we can sometimes set out on a constitutional road that leads not just to unintended consequences but to very unfair and unacceptable consequences as many of us see them.

Students from the rest of the United Kingdom, or RUK-it has a name, which is a sign of how well entrenched it is-will have to live with students whom they know will be paying none of the £36,000 that they are paying. The case has already been given of at least two such universities. It is sometimes suggested that the £36,000 is unnecessary. That is not true. If we are to compete with the best in the United Kingdom, that is the carefully estimated sum of money that has to be put back into the budget of individual universities, and they have set their fees accordingly.

I should mention that I was rather pleased to hear in the Antarctic debate mention of the University of Edinburgh. It has very strong research interests there and I am glad that we are protecting those interests. The only other interest that I could think of Scottish universities having in the Antarctic was if a very strong strain of clever penguins started applying to universities. They would have to decide what fees to charge the penguins, but happily we are unlikely to face that problem.

To summarise, an indefensible gap has arisen. I am not sure that either of these amendments would deal with it completely, but it is time for further thought. Do we want our university community, which shares knowledge and a passion for truth, to be divided within the United Kingdom financially in this extrovert way-a way that will distort human behaviour and the ways in which applications to universities are made? I hope not.