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Scottish universities warn about impact of university fee cuts in England

Image credit: Chris Radburn/PA

Scottish universities warn about impact of university fee cuts in England

Universities Scotland is calling on the next prime minister to “carefully consider” their responsibilities to students and universities in the devolved nations following a review of post-18 education and funding.

The Augar review recommends reducing higher education tuition fees to £7,500 per year in England.

But Universities Scotland, the body which represents Scotland’s 19 higher education institutions, has warned that any decision taken about HE funding south of the border will have a knock-on effect on universities in Scotland.

Theresa May commissioned Philip Augar to review the tuition fee system after concerns that getting into debt was deterring young people from poorer areas from going to university.

Maintenance grants were scrapped in 2016 and replaced with loans for those from low-income families, but May is urging her successor to bring them back for the poorest students.

The report suggests a grant of £3,000 per year, supplemented by a loan.

It also makes recommendations that will affect the funding of individual courses, stating the government should make up in full the money universities would lose if tuition fees were cut from £9,250 to £7,500 per year.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “The Augar review has been about tuition fees in England’s universities but the UK Government’s response to it will have very significant implications for Scotland’s universities.

“We want to see the UK Government take the time to carefully consider its responsibilities to students and universities across the whole of the UK, as well as those based in England.

“Almost 22,000 students from the rest of the UK currently choose to study in Scotland at undergraduate level. The fees they bring with them, which are pegged at the same maximum level as set in England, are an important part of the funding mix for Scottish universities.

“The Scottish Government made this income stream an explicit part of what they intended to be a sustainable balance of funding sources for Scottish higher education in 2011.

“A change to a maximum fee of £7,500 in England with compensatory top-up funding from the UK Government, as recommended by Augar, would see a significant increase in Barnett allocations to the Scottish Government.

“That must be passed onto higher education in Scotland for the rest of UK students we teach or the funding situation for Scotland’s universities could start to quickly unravel at a time when the publicly funded elements of it are already under huge pressure.”

NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe said: “It’s welcome to see proposals to address some of the worst impacts of the public policy disaster that is tuition fees and maintenance loans in England. As proponents of free education, we welcome any opportunity to reduce costs associated with study.

“This must be balanced with additional funding for education across the UK: if this cut to fees becomes a backdoor funding cut to education, we know that disadvantaged students will always be the ones to lose out.

“The Augar review proposals provide an opportunity for the UK Government to reduce tuition fees in England to £7,500 and for Scottish universities to be able to do the same for students from the rest of the UK. We would expect to see the UK Government make adequate funding available to the Scottish Government to make that a reality.”

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