Introduce tuition fees in Scotland for a fairer system

Madeleine Murphy

July 29, 2018

My university tuition fees are paid for by the Scottish government, and even I can acknowledge that it is an unfair and entirely illogical system. 

The SNP initiative of “free” education for all Scots may seem attractive to some, though the harsh reality is that it is definitely not free. It comes at the cost of good university places for Scottish students, and of course inflicts yet another unnecessary burden on the Scottish taxpayer – it is not surprising that Scotland is currently the highest taxed part of the UK.

After pushing for the abolishment of the graduate endowment fund in 2007, the SNP claims that progression to higher education has never been fairer and that students from all backgrounds are given an equal chance to succeed.

However, with “free” university tuition comes the necessary implementation of a cap on places. And this cap encourages nothing but inequality and discrimination, per se, against the progression of Scottish students into higher education; which is unusual coming from a government that claims to always put Scotland first. 

Nevertheless, this is in no way a surprise – universities evidently require funding to cover costs such as teaching, and these costs are usually majorly funded by tuition fees, which don’t exist for Scottish students. This is why while the cap on Scottish students limits places available substantially, the cap on international students and students from elsewhere in the UK isn’t so strict, as these students will be making a financial contribution. 

Of course, it is undeniably welcome news that students from every corner of the world are interested in studying their desired courses in universities across Scotland. The problem does not lie with the students, but that despite the increased demand for university places, the cap system does not allow for the satisfactory number of places to be created. The funding is not sufficient enough to allow for the system to grow. 

Why should Scottish universities have to resort to discrimination against Scots, putting poorer students at even more of a disadvantage due to the lack of places? It should, ideally, be a case of simply expanding to match demand.

Universities in England, for example, carry out this process very well. Under the Conservative Government, which scrapped the cap for English university places, students do have an equal opportunity to succeed, with more students from disadvantaged areas being accepted into universities every year.

Competition is not a bad thing – the prospect in education is healthy and motivates students to work hard to ensure they receive the grades that they need. However, students from deprived areas in Scotland face enough obstacles in their path already. Due to poor funding – despite tax increases – students in Scotland purely due to their school’s postcode are also limited in which subjects they can take. They, therefore, do not have access to the same opportunities and experiences as their counterparts from affluent areas, resulting in poorer UCAS application forms and, again, potentially losing out on university places.

Whisper it: perhaps the only way to ensure that students are given equal chances within Scotland is to introduce tuition fees. This would result in the removal of the inequitable cap on university places, allowing for the fair acceptance of bright students into Scottish universities, whether they are Scottish or from elsewhere.

So, to those who relentlessly campaign for “free” tuition to be expanded right across the UK, I say: be careful what you wish for. There are more unjust obstacles to this virtue-signalling system than what, at first, may meet the eye.


Written by Madeleine Murphy

Madeleine Murphy is a student at the University of Strathclyde.


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