On tuition fees the government's policy is flashy, boastful—and entirely short-signedby Ruth Davidson / June 10, 2016 / Leave a comment
Could for-profit “challenger institutions” improve higher education?
Vanity and hubris were never far from Alex Salmond’s side in his time as Scotland’s First Minister. Indeed, when it came to his own favourite policies, the vanity was cast in stone. Before quitting office, the ex-SNP First Minister ensured that a monument was placed at Heriot-Watt University to commemorate his policy on tuition fees. It declares that, to use the phrase he repeatedly appropriated from Robert Burns, “the rocks will melt with the sun” before fees are introduced in Scotland. This was Salmond-era politics encapsulated: flashy, boastful, populist and entirely short-signed.
The downsides are now beginning to come home to roost. Earlier this month, a major Sutton Trust report examined the state of University access in Scotland. It eloquently set out the facts that lie behind the SNP’s monuments to itself.
It found that if you are poor, Scotland is the worst place in the United Kingdom to live if you want to go to university. The report found that a student from the poorest fifth of Scottish households is four times less likely to go to University than their wealthier counterparts—compared to only 2.4 times in England. And it found that where access has increased for disadvantaged pupils, this has largely been by finding places not at Universities but at Further Education colleges. The report concludes: “Not only is the access gap still wider in Scotland, what progress there has been has largely been through sub-degree places in colleges.”
How has Mr Salmond’s tuition policy affected this? The report concluded that it was “not evident” that it had given Scotland any advantage in increasing participation among disadvantaged groups. Indeed it may have made things worse. It is worth pointing out that tuition is not free in Scotland: it is just that it is paid for by the state. With heavy constraints on public budgets and the discriminatory nature of the SNP’s “no fees” policy, the SNP places a cap on the number of Scottish students who are able…