By Cara Sulieman
SCOTTISH university bosses are pushing for changes to the system that could see students paying for their higher education depending on what course and college they pick.
All 21 of Scotland’s higher education institutions are expected to come and back the plans, which will see students paying a contribution to their course once they have graduated.
Some reckon they should pay variable fees depending on what and where they choose to study, while others are resistant to this condition.
Older universities are backing the variable fees options, with St Andrews and Glasgow thought to be amongst them as they try and raise funds.
It is newer institutions who are against this option as it means they wouldn’t be able to charge students as much.
If the variable system was put in place then longer more technical courses such as medicine and bioscience would cost more to study compared to arts and humanities courses.
Critics say it would discourage students from lower-income families from applying for expensive courses in prestigious universities, creating a social divide.
Tomorrow sees a report by Lord Browne published on the future of higher education funding in England.
It is expected to say that students should be paying an annual tuition fee or graduate contribution of up to £7,000.
If they do go up, it is expected to have a knock-on effect in Scotland where fees were abolished in 1999.
Their replacement, the graduate contribution to the course fees, was abolished in 2007.
There are fears that if nothing is to change in Scotland, it would leave universities lagging behind their English counterparts.
Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell has called for a “Scottish solution to a Scottish problem” and is asking for all stakeholders to contribute to a Green paper on university funding.
Scottish Labour are against variable fees, with education spokesman Des McNulty saying: “It is not the way to go in Scotland.
“There would be a lot of concern about the principle, and the impact it would have on students’ ability to enter into higher education.
“People from less advantaged backgrounds would be less likely to apply to get into the most prestigious universities, which would have the highest fees.
“Variable fees would leave us with elite institutions drawing from smaller and smaller sections of the population.”
But the Scottish Conservatives are behind the plans.
The party’s education spokeswoman Liz Smith said: “If you want to retain high standards and drive up competition then you have got to be able to set a fee that responds to the length of time of the degree and to the nature of the degree.”
Liam Burns, President of the National Union of Students Scotland said: “There is clear evidence from Australia that variable fees don’t work.
“Since their introduction, participation of male students from poor backgrounds has fallen by close to 40 per cent.
“If it doesn’t work there, why would Scotland head down the same failed path?”
Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, said his priority was securing a positive funding settlement for universities in the Scottish Government’s next budget.