Scotland universities: Why the UK and Scottish governments are both letting universities down

Stature of Scottish universities in jeopardy amid financial woes

It is hard to escape the conclusion that Scotland's universities are being let down by both the Westminster and Holyrood governments at the moment.

Recent Conservative administrations have given the impression they do not care in the slightest about the cost of their obsession with cutting immigration, even if it accelerates a funding crisis at universities across the UK.

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Indeed, Rishi Sunak's government specifically targeted the families of foreign students, and the Prime Minister boasted about banning them from coming to the country at the start of this year.

The damage such Tory rhetoric has caused to Britain's reputation as a place for international students to come and study could take years to repair. This is a particularly serious blow to Scottish universities, which have come to rely on the fees of foreign students to cover real-terms reductions in the amount of money provided by the Scottish Government to teach home-grown students, under the SNP's “free tuition” policy.

Now, while revenue from international students is falling and costs continue to rise, the sector has been left to deal with a £28.5 million cut to its grant. This year's budget has been tough for much of the public sector, and higher education is having to take its share of the pain.

But Scottish universities will struggle to see a bright future ahead any time soon as long as they continue to be handcuffed by both governments. 

They can't turn to international students because the Conservatives are focused on trying to win votes in England. At the same time, the SNP will not entertain a discussion on changing the way universities are funded north of the border, to protect the political capital it associates with "free tuition".

Unless something changes, it is not only the stature of Scotland's universities that will suffer, but also the nation as a whole. After all, the economy and public sector can not function without the skilled people produced by the further and higher education sectors.

Whether it is John Swinney or Sir Keir Starmer or both, universities are crying out for someone in power to start acting in their interests.



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