English, Welsh and N Irish 'face Scots degree fee rise'

Students in a lecture There have been calls for some form of graduate contribution in Scotland

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Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who go to university in Scotland could face annual fees of up to £6,000, the BBC has learned.

The plan is believed to be in a Scottish government Green Paper on education funding for the future.

Scottish students studying at home currently pay no tuition fees, but the SNP administration's paper is thought to contain plans for a graduate tax.

Other UK students currently at Scottish universities pay about £1,900 per year.

On Thursday, Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell will publish his proposals for the future of university funding on Thursday.

The UK government's move to raise tuition fees in England to as much as £9,000 a year has prompted outrage among students and violent protest.

Mr Russell is concerned that rising fees in England may lead to a flood of so-called "fee refugees" coming to study in Scotland - a development he is keen to avoid.

The Scottish government aims to implement its changes in 2012, in line with the reforms in England.

Holyrood's SNP government says the state should be the main provider for education, with access to it based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

Mr Russell has previously indicated that Scottish students may face a contribution towards the cost of their degree after they graduate, and, although he is not keen on the move, he has warned that the financial outlook for universities is "grim".

TUITION FEES AROUND THE UK

  • Scotland: Free to Scottish and EU students, £1,820 pa to other UK (£2,895 for medicine)
  • England: Max £3,290 pa, rising to maximum £9,000 in 2012
  • Wales and Northern Ireland: Maximum £3,290 pa

North of the border, the one-off graduate endowment fee of about £2,000 was scrapped by Scottish ministers in 2008.

The education secretary said ahead of the Green Paper's publication that he had examined every serious idea of higher education in Scotland.

He added that everyone would have the chance over the coming weeks and months to examine the ideas proposed and make their views known.

The body representing Scotland's university principals, Universities Scotland, is worried that, under the status quo, Scottish universities would fall behind the standards of their counterparts in England.

The organisation says higher education should be "free at the point of entry and throughout their study", but graduates earning reasonable salaries should be asked to pay.

Poorer students

Sir Andrew Cubie - who chaired the landmark inquiry into student funding in Scotland a decade ago - has said the country's system of university funding was unsustainable without some contribution from graduates.

NUS Scotland president Liam Burns said support for the poorest students was in "crisis", and said he was open to options for tackling the issue - including graduate contributions as a "last resort" - as long as tuition fees remained off the table.

The Scottish Conservatives say it is "not credible" for the state to shoulder the costs of higher education, if poorer students are to be supported while raising standards and international competitiveness.

The Scottish Lib Dems, instrumental in getting tuition fees scrapped, said access must be based on the ability to learn, while Labour said the issue had to be addressed "sooner rather than later".

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