Richard Leonard calls for review of ‘cap’ on Scottish students at universities

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An overhaul of the “cap” facing Scottish youngsters seeking a place at university has been called for by Labour leader Richard Leonard.

Students from other EU nations should no longer have their education funded at Scottish institutions after Brexit, Mr Leonard has said. The cash should instead used to provide more places for Scottish youngsters.

Richard Leonard says investing in education is vital. Picture: John Devlin

Richard Leonard says investing in education is vital. Picture: John Devlin

“A government that claims education is the priority should be raising the cap on student places,” Mr Leonard said ahead of a visit to Edinburgh University today.

“The SNP must also commit now to extend the cap post-Brexit.

“Investing in education is vital for our long-term economy and society. Labour would make the richest pay their fair share to ensure that education is open to all, and that there are fewer barriers to university access.”

The cap on Scottish students going to university north of the Border is in place as a result of the Scottish Government’s commitment to ensure free tuition for those who do attend. Numbers must be restricted or the commitment would become unaffordable and Mr Leonard is not suggesting it is abolished, but eased. No such cap applies south of the Border, where UK students pay fees of £9,000 a year.

And although English, Welsh and Northern Irish students pay fees in Scotland, other EU students have their fees paid in line with current EU rules. Education Secretary John Swinney has so far indicated this will continue even after Brexit, but Mr Leonard says this will end and EU students will “fall out” of the cap.

Universities say the capped system makes it harder for them to widen access to poorer students in line with Scottish Government directives.

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland last night welcomed Mr Leonard’s intervention.

“Taking action on the cap on numbers would be a welcome release on some of that pressure, provided that any additional places were fully funded,” she said.

“It’s welcome Labour’s statement is so clear that any extra places would be fully-funded, using the resource that is currently invested in EU students but which is likely to be released post-Brexit. We’re actively having conversations around fully-funded student numbers with the Scottish Government as part of Brexit planning. The Government’s medium term financial strategy suggested that it was open to this too, as a route to wider access, but we’d welcome more explicit confirmation.”