SCOTTISH Labour leader Jim Murphy has pledged to keep university education free north of the Border if the party wins next year’s Holyrood election.
Mr Murphy will set out details of a funding package for higher education on a visit to Glasgow University today and comes after Westminster party leader Ed Miliband pledged to cut fees south of the Border.
But Mr Murphy was accused of hypocrisy by political opponents, who said he voted to impose fees on students south of Border while in the last Labour government.
University education in Scotland has been free since the current SNP government scrapped the graduate endowment – so-called “back door fees” – when it came to power in 2007.
Speaking ahead of the Glasgow event, Mr Murphy said: “Under Scottish Labour there will be no university tuition fees in Scotland.
“I want young Scots to be able to train to be doctors, teachers, lawyers, engineers, scientists and much more, no matter their background or how much money their parents have.
“That was why Donald Dewar abolished tuition fees in the first place.”
In 2000, Labour’s then-first minister Donald Dewar abolished tuition fees in Scotland, but a £2,000 graduate endowment was still paid by students until the SNP’s 2007 move.
Universities in Scotland have raised concerns that the cut in fees proposed by Labour south of the Border could have a knock-on effect for their budgets, but Mr Murphy insists this is being addressed.
He said: “We will use the extra money coming to Scotland to plug any immediate funding gaps as a result of any fees reduction in England.
“Scotland has some of the best universities in the world, specialising in medical research that saves lives and is vital to our NHS. We won’t allow that to be put at risk.”
Students from elsewhere in the UK are charged fees of up to £9,000 a year to study in Scotland, just as they are south of the Border. Mr Miliband last week unveiled a £2.7 billion plan to slash tuition fees in England from £9,000 to £6,000 a year in England, funded by higher interest rates for wealthier students repaying their fees.
Free university tuition is backed by most mainstream political parties in Scotland.
The SNP’s Stewart Maxwell, convener of Holyrood’s education committee, said last night: “This is perhaps the most hypocritical announcement from Jim Murphy yet.
“Labour introduced tuition fees – and then abandoned students further when they introduced top-up fees. As a result, students south of the Border now face fees of up to £9,000 per year.
“Mr Murphy himself voted to impose tuition fees, describing the idea of free tuition as ‘incoherent, indefensible and unrealistic’.
“His announcement is all about panicked attempts to grab headlines and nothing to do with defending the principle of free education.”
And Conservative education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “If Scottish Labour wants to deliver ‘free’ higher education it will need to explain to universities and the public where the additional cash will come from, and that means either putting up taxes or making cuts elsewhere in expenditure.”
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