Myth – University Education in Scotland is Free.

In March 2011 Alex Salmond said “The rocks will melt with the sun” before the SNP allow tuition fees in Scotland.  Under this policy Scottish and EU students pay no fees, but English, Welsh, Northern Irish & non-EU students are charged. Fair enough. However, the question is how is this policy funded?

We know that around 85,000 college places have been cut by the SNP/#YesScotland government and that Audit Scotland say further cuts may be needed. This is counter-productive as Scotland’s colleges are key to giving vulnerable people a second chance by getting them back into education.

A second area which has been hard hit is the Student Grant paid to the very poorest Scottish students. The bar chart below shows how the nationalist government is short-changing the poorest Scots. Note that the poorest Scots get the lowest grant by far. Perhaps this explains why the abolition of tuition fees has not encouraged more Scottish children from poor families to go to university. Indeed, St Andrews University accepted just five students from most deprived areas in 2012.

The low Student Grant in Scotland means that those students from the poorest backgrounds have to take out large student loans just to live. The table below shows the typical debt for students who have used up all of their student loan entitlement. Note that although fees are not charged in Scotland, debt is still high. This data assumes that poor students elsewhere in the UK do not apply for the many university fee reduction scholarships available to poorer students (typically worth ~£5,000).

It should also be noted that Graduates in England repay their loan once their income exceeds£21,000. In Scotland the threshold is just £16,910. This is really important as the loan expires (paid or not) after 30 years. It is possible to look at what Scottish and English students would repay over the 30 year period if they start work on a salary of £17,000 per year and receive an increment of 3% per year (not bad!). As the plot shows, the poorest Scottish students pay more than comparable English students until 2049(!) – by which time the debt has been written off.

So it appears that education in Scotland is only free with this SNP/#YesScotland policy if you can afford to pay for it.

For a more detailed look at this paradox, please read this.

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