Universities and constitutional change in the uk: the impact of devolution on the higher education sector Tony Bruce Introduction

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Student finance

  1. In 1999 tuition fees for full-time undergraduate students were charged at all UK universities under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, which had ended free tuition and replaced maintenance grants by loans with income contingent repayments.

  2. The new Scottish Executive established an enquiry into the funding of higher education in Scotland, which is a devolved matter under the Scotland Act 1998. The review recommended the abolition of upfront student fees for Scottish domiciled students studying in Scotland and their replacement by a graduate endowment scheme. As a result upfront fees were abolished and a replacement scheme was adopted: graduates were to pay back £2,000 with repayments starting once their earnings reached £10,000 a year.

  3. The graduate endowment represented the first significant variation from UK-wide higher education funding arrangements and introduced the first complexities into the devolved system which have been its hallmark ever since. Under the new arrangements introduced in 2001 students from the rest of the UK studying in Scotland would continue to be liable for the same upfront fee that applied elsewhere but they would not be required to pay the endowment.

  4. The UK government replaced the upfront fee with a variable fee of up to £3,000 from 2006 primarily to address the problem of under-investment in universities in England by increasing the contribution made by graduates as the principal beneficiaries of higher education. Variable fees were also introduced in Northern Ireland in 2006 and a year later in Wales but the endowment continued in Scotland (until it was abolished in 2008). The fixed fee charged to students from the rest of the UK studying in Scotland was retained but was increased from 2006. The increase was a response to fears that English applicants to Scottish universities would increase dramatically if no action were taken, forcing Scottish domiciled students out at the application stage and to concerns about an emerging funding gap.

  5. In Wales, the government modified the new fee arrangements as they applied in England with the aim of making higher education more accessible to Welsh-domiciled students studying in Wales. From their introduction in 2007, variable fees were accompanied by an inflation-adjusted Assembly fees grant of up to £1,845 a year which was not repayable or dependent on income.

  6. The UK government’s decision to raise the fee cap in England to £9,000 from 2012 has produced a consistent response from the devolved administrations. They have decided to protect their home domiciled students either by the continuation of free higher education (Scotland) or by providing a non-repayable fee grant to meet the difference in cost between the old fee and the new fee (Wales) or by maintaining tuition fees at their current (inflation adjusted level) of £3,465 (Northern Ireland). Welsh students will receive the grant wherever they study but there were no similar concessions for students domiciled in Scotland and Northern Ireland studying outside their home country who will be liable for the full fee. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all applied the English fee cap of £9,000 to their incoming students with the aim of increasing their fee income while avoiding any significant increase in recruitment levels.

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