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Monday, January 12, 2004

Tuition fees

Jade Farrington says on her blog "Edis seems to think that English and Welsh students are going to "flood" over the Scottish border to take advantage of their universities as Scottish students don't pay tuition fees. Unless I'm mistaken this is ever so slightly flawed, in that English and Welsh students at Scottish unis still have to pay fees, as do Scottish students at English and Welsh universities. I don't think the Scots need to worry about another English invasion anytime soon.".

Jade is of course right, English students attending Scottish Universities may well still have to pay variable tuition fees if the present Higher Education Bill becomes law. I think it is worth pointing out though that the Bill proposes giving Wales the same powers as Scotland with regards to student finance and there is still a good chance that the Assembly will stop Welsh Universities charging variable tuition fees to Welsh students. In this instance devolution means that England and Wales should not be lumped together when it comes to legislation and policy. This is a common error on the part of the English media and English politicians and I should say that their Welsh equivalents are not immune from this either.

Jade also asserts that Scottish MPs should not be allowed to vote on English and Welsh matters. This is an interesting argument and arises only because the devolution process has been implemented by New Labour in such an haphazard way. Once English devolution is underway then we will have a large number of bodies all with different powers and different levels of responsibility. In that instance it will become impossible to enforce any such ban on voting on matters devolved to one's own regional or national assembly or Parliament. A proper Federal constitution is the only tidy and logical solution. Until that comes in I would suggest that members of a body should be able to vote on all matters before it (apart from when they have an declarable interest of course) regardless of geographical applicability.

Update: Eldis asks "comments such as those from Napier seem to assume that English fees would work as advertised in improving English Universities, so Scottish ones would face a staff brain drain chasing higher wages and better facilities. Any counters to this argument? Top-up fees supporters would say this would apply to all UK universities in competition with the rest of the world if we don't get the 'extra money'"

He is right of course. That is why there is a cost to any devolved administration which might wish to avoid imposing variable tuition fees. That cost amounts to the sum of money they will have to give to their Universities to compensate them for not having the income that these fees will bring. In this way the colleges within the devolved state will be able to continue to compete with English Universities, who would otherwise be better resourced and able to poach the best staff..


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