Prime Minister (Meetings)

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 11:59 am on 28th October 2010.

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Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

When last month I raised with the First Minister the funding crisis that is facing our universities, he had no answer. Indeed, that was the day that he came, he saw and he did not have a clue. Today, our Scottish universities are acknowledging the crisis by accepting that there will have to be a graduate contribution and calling for urgent action. Those are all points that the Scottish Conservatives have made repeatedly. If the First Minister still does not have a clue, does he at least accept the principle that graduates are going to have to contribute to the cost of their degrees?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

We are committed to finding a uniquely Scottish solution to university funding and we have made it clear that we want to ensure that all sensible ideas, no matter how radical they are, are given a chance to be aired. The only measure that has been ruled out is a return to tuition fees, as previously supported by the Conservative party.

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

David McLetchie says no, but my very clear memory is that when the Parliament voted to abolish tuition fees, the proposal was opposed by the Conservative party. At that time, of course, it was supported by the Liberal Democrats—I think that there might have been a change of heart in the intervening period.

No decisions will be made until all those with an interest, including students, the universities and university staff, have offered their views. An all-party summit with university and student representatives will be held on 15 November to give the other parties, including Annabel Goldie's, the chance to make a constructive contribution. The Scottish Government will publish a green paper by the end of the year that lays out the options that are available to us with a view to reaching a solution by the second half of 2011.

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative

Listening to the First Minister, he is like some latter-day Nero, strumming out "Gaudeamus Igatur" on his fiddle while tongues of flame reach out to our universities. This is a First Minister who talks but never leads, a First Minister who ducks and dives round the problem but never solves it, and a First Minister who will always do the populist thing rather than the right thing.

When our own universities now concede that graduates will have to contribute to the cost of their education, and when the National Union of Students accepts that, why cannot the First Minister accept that simple principle so that we can all get on with working out the detail?

Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

I am glad that Annabel Goldie's remedial classes in Latin are still on train.

In relation to the relative position of Scottish and English universities, she should remember the statement from Alastair Sim, the director of Universities Scotland:

"I would say we're in a better position than in England, where we've already been told to expect £600m of further cuts in addition to what's already been announced, so I would rather be here than in England at the moment."

That comment was made before the comprehensive spending review, which shows a dramatic decline in higher education funding south of the border.

As Annabel Goldie well knows, the important point is that, through consequentials, what happens south of the border is reflected in the funding settlement for Scotland. That is why we are committed to finding a distinctively Scottish approach. I believe—and we all have to combine to ensure—that that approach is much better than either the funding or the position facing students in England or elsewhere south of the border.