Monday, 17 January 2011
Scotland, The Cheap Option?
How education has changed in the past 30 years. In my youth there were no school proms with bonny lassies wearing evening dresses and laddies in their first evening suit and arriving at expensive hotels in stretch limos. Even children as young as seven are in on the action. Back then the only graduation ceremonies which took place were for those who had successfully completed a university degree course but nowadays ceremonies are held for a mix of higher education courses.
There has been much talk about university fees in recent months and Scotland has come in for criticism because the government insists upon no tuition fees at Scottish universities. Little is said about the same ruling applying to further education colleges and there are more colleges in Scotland than universities.
Scotland attracts many EU students who can claim for payment of their tuition fees from the Student Awards Agency for Scotland. Claims can be made for non-degree studies such as HNC/HND courses as long as the student meets eligibility requirements.
The number of EU students studying in Scotland increased by 17% between 2008/9 and 2009/10. In contrast the number of EU students attending English institutions increased by only 6% during the same period. European law means that the Scottish Government is obliged to pay the fees of students living in non-UK EU countries - at a cost of more than £75 million a year in 2009/10.
That figure could increase drastically now that Germany is about to shorten its schooling from 13 to 12 years. The change will result in two high school streams graduating in the same year, putting unprecedented strain on the country's university admissions system. Where are all these pupils going to go?
Neil Mitchison, head of the European Commission's Office in Scotland said: "German universities may struggle to accommodation the massive number of expected applications, forcing many students to seek education abroad. Scotland's free education system makes it a very attractive option." (my emphasis)
What may happen in Germany is that German universities chose those with the highest school qualifications for courses, leaving those with lesser grades to look elsewhere.
Do we really want our higher education system to be renowned for being free rather than top quality? Last week Mike Russell, the education secretary, suddenly decided Scotland couldn't afford to fund students who come from EU countries to study, at either a university or a college, so he intends to tackle this 'anomaly' when he visits Brussels next month.
The EU states that if countries charge their own students then EU students must pay in the same way. In England they pay tuition fees while in Scotland they used to pay the £2,300 Graduate Endowment. The SNP government scrapped the endowment in 2007 with the approval of parliament but this would now appear to be a badly thought out policy. Blaming EU legislation isn't good enough. The Scottish government must have realised that abolishing fees would result in an influx of EU students keen to gain free education.
Will Mr Russell's problem be sympathetically received in Brussels or will the officials say it is of his government's own making? We'll find out next month but in the meantime the £75 million worth of free education to EU students last year is sure to be higher in 2011.