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Higher Education Funding

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2011

1. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues and Ministers in the Scottish Executive on funding for higher education institutions in Scotland. (44075)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues on matters related to higher education in Scotland. Funding for higher education in Scotland is largely a devolved matter, and my hon. Friend may be aware that the Scottish Government concluded the consultation on its Green Paper on the future of higher education funding on 1 March.

In our United Kingdom, is it right that students from England studying in Scotland can be discriminated against in favour of students from Scotland or from other countries in the European Union?

My hon. Friend will know, as I have stated, that higher education is devolved, and it is for the Scottish Government to decide how to determine the funding of students from both Scotland and England. The fact that £75 million is being spent funding students from the European Union in Scotland will be the subject of considerable discussion at the forthcoming Scottish Parliament elections.

Not long ago, the Secretary of State unwittingly told The Daily Telegraph that

“tuition fees are the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing”,

and that breaking his word on the issue is

“the worst crime a politician can commit”.

Does the Minister agree with him?

I agree with Sir Andrew Cubie, who commented on the Scottish Government’s proposals on higher education, and said that their response was “too late” and that they had had the opportunity to lead the way on higher education in the United Kingdom, but chose to follow.

The Minister chose not to answer the question. Returning to the comments of the Secretary of State, at the same time, he said that accepting tuition fees of £9,000 was a “car crash” and “a train wreck”. Will the Minister confirm that, because the issue is devolved, Scotland does not have to follow the hare-brained policy of the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in government in England by introducing a car crash of a policy in Scotland?

My concern for students in Scotland stems from the failure of the Scottish National party Government to address the issue of higher education funding in Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman will know, a funding gap of up to £260 million in higher education in Scotland has been identified as a result of the SNP’s governance. By my definition, that is a car crash.

The aspect of the reform of higher education funding in England that I most applaud is the fact that, for the first time, part-time students will receive the same treatment as full-time students. Will my right hon. Friend do all he can to persuade the Scottish Government to do all they can to support part-time students in Scotland?

My hon. Friend identifies a positive and progressive aspect of the Government’s higher education policy as it applies to England, and it is a policy that deserves to be introduced in Scotland.