Universities (Funding)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 10th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

4. To ask the Scottish Executive, in light of the report of the Scottish Government/Universities Scotland technical group on higher education, what it considers the teaching funding gap between Scottish and English universities will be by 2014-15. (S3O-13204)

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

Our analysis of those figures suggests that a net funding gap of around £93 million could emerge with the rest of the UK in 2014-15. That is based on the assumptions that are set out in the report and Scottish universities earning extra income of up to £62 million by 2014-15 through charging students from the rest of the UK higher fees.

Photo of David McLetchie David McLetchie Conservative

Those figures are based on the absurd assumption that there will be no growth in fees down south over that period. It appears that the deficit deniers of SNP and Labour are now making up higher education policy based on phantom figures. Mr Sim, the director of Universities Scotland, has said that its £202 million estimate—not £93 million—for the funding gap was “conservative” and that to bridge it without a graduate contribution would require “brave decisions” to be made about spending cuts elsewhere. Would our brave cabinet secretary care to volunteer areas that lie within his portfolio and which would be suitable for cuts, or is that another buck that he intends to pass?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

David McLetchie must not get intoxicated by his own rhetoric, even at the conclusion of the parliamentary session. The reality is that this Government has done more to work on, and with, the sector to plan for its future. The green paper process, which was much derided, particularly by Labour, has turned out to be a remarkable success because, for the first time ever, we have a comprehensive set of figures. Universities Scotland might wish to work with the top end of its figures, but I have not chosen to go to the bottom end. Unfortunately, David McLetchie is comparing gross with net and a good lawyer like him should know that he should never do that. We need to make a decision in Scotland about the proper public funding of universities.

The Conservatives have made an alternative decision that people should go to university because they have the ability to pay, not the ability to learn. That is totally alien to the Scottish tradition. The Conservatives must answer for that decision, but I will answer for the sustained, long-term future for Scottish universities that I am determined to put in place.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

What impact will the raising of tuition fees to £9,000 have on the accessibility of higher education in Scotland?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

We will see an undesirable effect on access to higher education south of the border. That policy must answer for itself, but its apologists in the Scottish Tory party are being sucked into the swamp of saying that higher education should be provided for the benefit of the individual rather than for the benefit of society. That is entirely alien to the Scottish tradition.

We will see a growing divide south of the border, and I do not want to see that in Scotland. It is no accident that we have five of the top 150 universities in the world. That is because of our tradition of more open access, because we value education in the way that we do, and because our universities have democratic governance. I want to preserve those things.

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

Following publication of the report by the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland, the Labour Party has made a commitment to no tuition fees either up front or at the back end. Will the cabinet secretary match our commitment?

Photo of Michael Russell Michael Russell Scottish National Party

I was entertained to read the account in The Daily Telegraph of how that decision was made. It seems to have left Mr McNulty a little bit surprised, to say the least. Nonetheless, if Mr Macintosh shows the patience for which he is renowned, he will discover that the offer that he has made has certainly stimulated some thinking. Of course, the greater thinking is not about the review that Iain Gray has offered, which is utterly ludicrous considering the timescales involved. The greater thinking is being done about how we make radical change to Scottish universities, and Mr Macintosh will not have to wait very long before he discovers my views on that.