Scottish Conservatives U-turn on university tuition fees
The Scottish Conservatives are to back free tuition for university students at the next Scottish election.
Douglas Ross confirmed the change in policy at a Young Conservative fringe event at the UK party conference this afternoon.
The decision had been driven by the challenges facing young people due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ross said.
He said: “This group of young people have had their education disrupted like no other. They’re losing out on life-defining experiences and they’re going to be entering the job market at the most difficult time.
“We cannot burden them any further. So now is the time for the Scottish Conservatives to re-think our policy on introducing tuition fees and a graduate contribution.
“Our manifesto will support free tuition for university students, while calling for college places to be viewed as equally valuable.”
In its 2016 manifesto, the party supported setting a graduate contribution of £1,500 per year. The U-turn will see this policy scrapped.
Tuition fees were abolished for Scottish students attending Scottish universities in 2000, while a one-off graduate endowment fee was scrapped in 2007.
South of the border, students attending university face fees of up to £9,250 per year.
The SNP has labelled the shift "the least convincing U-turn in modern political history". SNP MSP Clare Adamson, who chairs Holyrood's education committee, said: "They have never backed free education and always defended privilege for the few, over education for the many.
"Now, facing a disastrous showing at the election, the Tory leopard is claiming to have changed its spots. No one will believe a word of it."
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesperson Beatrice Wishart said: "I'm glad that the Scottish Conservatives have got there eventually, even if it has taken two decades. The Scottish Government must also reflect on what it can do better, after ignoring our warnings and proposals designed to avoid university outbreaks. It could start by setting out plans to prepare our universities to train and retrain more people with a particular focus on a green recovery."