A leaked memo circulated by Universities Scotland, of which the University of Glasgow is a member, advises the introduction of tuition fees for Scottish students of around £12,000 for four years of study.
The circulation warns universities must begin charging students or decrease the number of those admitted as the current system is not sustainable and many universities would face a severe lack of funding.
Many universities are already having to make major cuts to staff and courses. Glasgow is currently initiating a £20 million saving plan; Stirling and Dundee have also had to reconsider their budgets.
The fee suggested would be a graduate contribution – it would not be paid up front, instead only paid back after the graduate is earning a sufficient annual wage of £21,000. This would require a change in legislation at Holyrood after tuition fees were abolished for Scots in 2000.
The circulation states: “it is fair in principle that individuals who realise substantial private benefit as a result of university education should make a contribution, as well as this being pragmatically necessary as a result of reduced public funding.”
The tuition fee would be “set at a level much closer to, or lower than, the former English level”. It is feared that the increased fees in England, voted for in Westminster last December, will make English universities much better resourced than their Scottish counterparts, and so Scottish universities will only become less appealing.
The Government currently gives £1.07 billion to higher education per year, but a cut to this would create a huge funding gap that the universities would have to bear. It has been argued increasing recruitment of international students or charging English students more to study at Scottish universities could close this gap, although recent statisitcs suggest a reduction in the number of English students applying to Scottish universities.
However, Glasgow is already aiming to increase international student numbers by 1000 over the next 3 years to cover a pre-existing funding gap. The Scottish National party also outlined plans late last year to increase fees for English students to £6,500 per year, but this sparked a great deal of controversy, many dubbing it as racist discrimination.
Universities Scotland, an organisation representing university principles, has estimated a cut of 14,000 acceptances to Scottish universities would be the only other option to introducing tuition fees. This would be as equally controversial as tuition fees, particularly in light of this years agreement between the Government and universities to keep the rate of admissions up.
A cross-party summit was held on March 1 in Glasgow to discuss options available to close the funding gap between Scotland and the rest of the UK. The Government, Universities Scotland and other organisations were all present at the summit.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said: “I am delighted that all concerned have welcomed and accepted the group's findings as a basis for finding a sustainable funding solution.
“I will consider the report and the views of all those who have responded before I come forward with a solution before this Parliament ends later this month.
“This has rightly been a lengthy process so that all voices could be heard. But it is now time to father all that information and bring forward a concrete, sustainable solution that works in the interest of all.”
The Government and Universities Scotland have jointly created a short-life Technical Group to access any proposed funding solutions. Anton Muscatelli, Principle of the University, is a member of this group, which also consists of officials from the Government and Universities Scotland, and other experts from the sector.
This comes after the Scottish Labour Party ruled out any form of funding for higher education from students. The Scottish Liberal Democrats are expected to make a similar announcement, while the SNP remain committed to not reintroducing tuition fees. Alex Salmond is to pledge that tuition fees will not be brought back in Scotland if the SNP win the May election. This leaves the Scottish Conservative party the only party in Scotland committed to a graduate contribution.