REMOVING the cap on tuition fees charged by Scottish universities to students from the rest of the UK risks them being seen as “cash cows”, MSPs have been warned.
Organisations representing academics and students today voiced their objections to proposals from university leaders to scrap the cap on fees.
Institutions north of the border have agreed to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland up to a maximum of £9,000 each year, and the Scottish Government wants to enshrine this in primary legislation from 2013/14.
The limit was introduced to bring fees for non-Scottish UK students into line with those charged by institutions across the rest of the country.
In a submission to the Education Committee at Holyrood, the Committee of Scottish Chairs, which represents the 12 governing bodies of universities in Scotland, said the legislation was unnecessary.
Representatives from University and College Union Scotland and the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland were asked about the chairs’ comments during an evidence session at the Education Committee today.
Mary Senior, Scottish official for University and College Union Scotland, said: “We do feel very strongly about this introduction of a market into Scottish higher education.”
She told MSPs that the “least worst option” was to set a flat-rate fee for RUK (Rest of UK) students across the sector, to prevent them from being seen as “such as cash cow as potentially they are now”.
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said Holyrood’s fee cap “goes beyond even the worst excesses of what the Westminster Government is proposing”, with degrees costing as much as £36,000 for RUK students in Scotland.
He told the committee that legislation was needed and a lower cap should be introduced.
“We’ve seen the creation of a market, and a market needs regulation,” he said.
“That means that we need the fee cap to be brought lower and we need greater rules and greater conditions around bursaries.”
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said: “They (the chairs) don’t see a need for the fee cap to be enshrined in legislation, but I don’t think anybody is arguing that universities should be charging fees that are ahead of the maximum elsewhere in the UK.
“That really wouldn’t make sense in terms of how you can compete in a market.”