Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:39 pm on 13th June 2007.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative 2:39 pm, 13th June 2007

I thank the cabinet secretary for providing an advance copy of her statement. Today's announcement will doubtless be popular with student groups, but there is more to government than grabbing a few cheap headlines and a few cheers from the back benches.

Scottish Conservatives are no fans of the graduate endowment, but my criticism of the cabinet secretary's announcement is that it utterly fails to address the real issue in relation to higher education. The cabinet secretary said in her statement that she wishes to focus on

"promoting excellent teaching and research in our colleges and universities."

She must be aware of the growing concern among Scottish universities that they face a competitive disadvantage compared with English institutions because of the additional revenue that those institutions can derive from top-up fees. The situation will be exacerbated in a few years' time when the £3,000 a year cap on top-up fees will be lifted.

The real issue for the Scottish Government is how to fill that funding gap. In her first statement on higher education, the cabinet secretary had not one word to say on that vital issue. Scottish Conservatives, recognising the serious nature of the issue, have called for an independent review of higher education funding and student support. The Scottish National Party's response has been to propose a policy that will take money out of higher education rather than put it in.

In 2003, the SNP manifesto pledged:

"We will reconvene the Cubie Committee with a remit to review financial support for students at present, as well as the overall context of further and higher education funding. The committee will not be restricted in its remit".

Why has the SNP abandoned that perfectly sensible commitment, for which it would have had our support? Is it because the balance of expert opinion is likely to run counter to its stance and question the scrapping of the graduate endowment that was announced today?

Will the cabinet secretary join us in committing to establish an independent review of higher education funding, or is she happy to sit back and do nothing while the future of our great universities is put in jeopardy?