Universities will be able to set their own fees for students from the rest of the UK to ensure Scotland remains the best option, not the cheapest option for higher education, Education Secretary Michael Russell said today.
Responding to the increased tuition fees in England and Wales and outlining the first step in the new funding deal, Mr Russell launched a consultation on secondary legislation to allow universities to set their own fees for students from the rest of the UK from academic year 2012/13.
Primary legislation will follow to ensure that fees for these students cannot be set above £9,000 a year from 2013/14 onwards - in the interim, Universities Scotland has confirmed that universities will voluntarily comply with this upper limit until primary legislation is in place.
Universities will be free to set a range of potential fees for other UK students from £1,800 to £9,000. We would expect the average fee in Scotland to be lower than in England given that an average figure of £6,375 was used by the joint Scottish Government and Universities Scotland technical working group.
The announcement means university places for Scottish students will be protected. The Scottish Government has already committed to ensuring Scottish students will not pay tuition fees in Scotland.
Mr Russell said:
"Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities. However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities. We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students.
"The Scottish Government will continue to protect free education in Scotland and has been clear for sometime that we will not reintroduce tuition fees. This has provided families and young people across Scotland with stability and clarity for some time.
"University recruitment drives have now started. Today, we are providing clarity for potential students from the rest of the UK that making the positive choice to study in Scotland will not cost more than it does in their home nation. We expect the average fee for Scottish universities to be lower than the average in England and Wales.
"Fees and fee levels are significant issues. However, we have taken swift action to provide stability in Scotland. We now must focus on the wider role of our universities and the part they play in our young people's future and the contribution they make to our economy."
Mr Russell continued:
"Our aspirations for the sector are wider than merely financial. We must have modern and transparent governance arrangements in place across all our universities as a pre-requisite for long term stability and success.
"These plans will be shaped by the governance review I announced two weeks ago. I am publishing the review's remit today alongside a call for evidence so that we can gather views over the summer. I expect to have recommendations by the end of this year and to legislate, where necessary, next year.
"In addition I plan to hold a review of the governance of our FE colleges which will run parallel to our university review. This will examine the quality, relevance and potential future contribution which can be made by an enhanced governance structure of our colleges.
"This review - to be led by Professor Russell Griggs, chair of Dumfries and Galloway College's governing body - will look to ensure that college governance is geared to providing world-class leadership, inspiration and scrutiny in order to support the economic and social role of colleges in what will inevitably be a highly challenging future financial climate."
These announcement was made as part of a wider statement on the Scottish Government's intentions for higher education and wider post-16 reform.
This wider post-16 reform work will draw on the review of post 16 Vocational Education and Training which Willy Roe CBE has undertaken for the Scottish Government. It will be published over the summer.
Mr Roe has decided that this is an appropriate juncture at which to step aside from his position as Chair of SDS and the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has accepted his resignation.
The office of the Public Appointments Commissioner for Scotland have been made aware of Mr. Roe's resignation. The Commission will oversee an open competition to identify a new Chair for SDS, which will commence as soon as possible. In the meantime, John McClelland CBE will continue as interim Chair of SDS on a temporary assignment.