There is no silver bullet to the question of how we place funding for universities in Scotland on a long-term sustainable basis. What is clear, though, is that if the Government is re-elected there will be no return to tuition fees, either up front or back door.
The joint work that we have undertaken with Universities Scotland has given us a clear estimate of any funding gap and allowed us to explore a number of funding streams, including up to £62 million from students from the rest of the United Kingdom and an estimated £22 million from students from the rest of the European Union. That is before we factor in any other sources, such as philanthropic giving, increased commercial activity or efficiency savings that the universities themselves have agreed are deliverable.
There is debate about the size of the gap in funding of our higher education. There is also debate about the impact that adding fees for students from beyond Scotland would have on universities’ ability to attract them. However, we can all make a reasonable guess that as the market takes hold, the gap, whatever it is today, will likely only grow.
One political party in Parliament wants to raise a tax on graduates. Another wants to raise a tax on all wealthy people. Is not the least credible position the one in the middle, the one that is held by the Government and the main Opposition party, which say that they can close the gap but will not say where the money will come from? How are parents of current and future students in Scotland supposed to view that remotely credibly?
I would have thought that the member would welcome the renewed commitment that this Government has given to the strong Scottish tradition of free access to higher education—access on the basis of the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. The fact that he refuses to do so reveals his posturing on this issue. He is therefore quite unfit to pronounce on anything educational—or, indeed, anything else.