When the First Minister meets the Prime Minister, they may well discuss the consequences of the vote in the House of Commons earlier this week on so-called top-up fees. Last week the First Minister ruled out categorically the introduction of such fees in Scotland for as long as he is First Minister, but there was a suspicion afterwards that the Scottish Executive was playing its familiar semantic word games. For the record, will the First Minister give us the same unequivocal and categorical assurance that the graduate endowment in Scotland will not rise by more than the rate of inflation for as long as he is First Minister?
In answer to the questions that Mr McLetchie posed earlier this week in a letter to me, I will be very clear. First, there will be additional money for Scottish universities for both tuition fees and research. Secondly, Scottish students studying at universities in Scotland will not pay tuition fees or top-up tuition fees, as I
That was a very interesting answer. The First Minister answered about five questions that I did not ask and ignored the one that I did ask. I remind him that I asked whether he will give us an assurance that the graduate endowment will not rise by more than the rate of inflation for as long as he is First Minister. As well as give us that commitment, will he assure us that no other additional contribution will be required of Scottish students in respect of their education over and above the present graduate endowment for as long as he is First Minister? Those are straightforward questions. Will the First Minister kindly answer them?
For the avoidance of any doubt that there might be in Mr McLetchie's mind, I am happy to answer those questions. As I have made absolutely clear, not only will the graduate endowment not be used to help fund university tuition or research, but no other new fees will be introduced for that. Graduate endowment, like all other aspects of our income and expenditure, will be discussed in the course of the spending review. We are not going to make announcements on it six months in advance of the announcement of the budgets for the next three years, any more than we would make announcements in relation to bridge tolls, water charges or any other part of the income in our budget.
The position is absolutely clear: no contribution from the graduate endowment will go towards university tuition or research. In the course of the next few months we will identify first the substantial additional resources that will be available for Scottish higher education and, secondly, the improvements that we want to make to student support. We will then agree how we are going to fund those improvements and Parliament will get a chance to vote on them in the normal manner.
Being coy does not really suit the First Minister. At last week's question time he
In the same way that there will be no announcements before September on bridge tolls, water charges or any other aspect of income and expenditure in relation to our budget, we will deal with announcements on the graduate endowment in the normal manner. We will consider the money that we need to raise in relation to the money that we want to spend. In the course of that process we will ensure first that the graduate endowment, as agreed by the Parliament, is not used for university tuition or research, secondly that the income for Scottish universities increases by a substantial amount to ensure that they have the right facilities and support for tuition and research and thirdly, that student support in Scotland is improved. We will consider the various ways in which that could be funded and will report back to the Parliament for a vote in due course.