Scottish Conservatives throw support behind free tuition fees in seismic U-turn

The Scottish Conservatives have thrown their support behind free tuition fees in a seismic U-turn.
Douglas Ross announced a u-turn on tuition feesDouglas Ross announced a u-turn on tuition fees
Douglas Ross announced a u-turn on tuition fees

In a move that sees new leader Douglas Ross at odds with the Conservative party policy in England, he announced it was time for a rethink on the provocative issue.

Speaking at a Young Conservative fringe event at today’s Tory conference, the Moray MP called for a new approach from his party.

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He said: “This group of young people have had their education disrupted like no other.

“They’re losing out on life-defining experiences and they’re going to be entering the job market at the most difficult time.

“We cannot burden them any further.

“So now is the time for the Scottish Conservatives to re-think our policy on introducing tuition fees and a graduate contribution.

“Our manifesto will support free tuition for university students, while calling for college places to be viewed as equally valuable.”

The party supported getting rid of tuition fees in 1999 and 2003, before proposing a “root-and-branch review” of education funding in 2007.

Their last Holyrood manifesto already had a different policy on tuition fees to Westminster, with a proposed cap of £6,000.

They then backed a means-tested graduate contribution in 2011 and 2016.

The SNP claimed the move was a calculated tactic ahead of next year’s Holyrood elections in May.

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SNP MSP Clare Adamson said: “After years of trying to force tuition fees on Scottish students, Douglas Ross and Baroness Davidson claim to have seen the light.

"This has to be the least convincing U-turn in modern political history.

“They have never backed free education and always defended privilege for the few, over education for the many.

“Now, facing a disastrous showing at the election, the Tory leopard is claiming to have changed its spots. No-one will believe a word of it.

Currently Scottish students get free university tuition north of the Border, as do students from the EU.

However, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland students have to pay up to £9,250 per year, making them the most expensive fees in Europe.

In England the fees are not paid up front, with repayments only made once graduates are earning above a certain threshold.

Westminster Tories insist the scheme is fairer than what came before, with many more disadvantaged students now going to university.

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The Tory policy U-turn came as Mr Ross promised a “a fresh way forward” next year for his party.

He said: “To go back to the old division in Scotland that we faced wouldn’t just be an opportunity lost, it would be an insult to the lessons of 2020. It would show truly that we have learned the price of everything, and the value of nothing.

“As the saying goes, every crisis is an opportunity and I believe that the pandemic marks an opportunity for Britain, an opportunity to make this next decade a decade of co-operation, a decade when we put the old divisions behind us and as a United Kingdom of four nations, work together to overcome the challenges ahead.”



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