Tuition Fees and Budget Cuts: how will they affect St Andrews?

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Eilidh Beaton discusses how the current government decisions will affect students in St Andrews and across Scotland

Students in St Andrews have been protesting against the government’s plans to increase English tuition fees.

The coalition have already made the decision to cut the university teaching budget in England by 40%, and on Thursday this week, MPs will vote on a bill proposing to raise the cap on tuition fees in English universities to £9000. Several Liberal Democrat MPs, who made a pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees, have now decided to abstain or even vote in favour of the bill.

Regardless of how progressive MPs claim the proposed repayment conditions are, the heightened amount of debt students will face at English institutions will put them off applying, especially those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. If the bill passes, opportunities for social mobility will significantly decrease.

The Scottish government’s stance on the situation has not yet been made clear, although First Minister Alex Salmond, says he will not reintroduce tuition fees: “We [the SNP] have always made it clear that we believe access to higher education should be based on ability to learn – not ability to pay.”

Speculation on what the ‘Scottish solution’ may entail includes introduction of a graduate tax and increasing tuition fees for non-Scottish students at Scottish institutions. Fees for English students studying in Scotland may rise to up to £9000 in a bid to prevent an influx of English applications to Scottish universities. Details on the Scottish position will not be official until after the Holyrood elections in May 2011.

At St Andrews, in addition to the raising of English students’ tuition fees, the cuts may also cause there to be further staff redundancies, following the ‘restructuring’ of the languages department earlier this year.

In response to these cuts in Higher Education, on the first day of action, students from St Andrews attended the London Demo and took part in the peaceful protests. Unfortunately, the Student Association did not provide transport for the event, but students were able to share a bus organised by the University of Abertay.

On the second day of action, Tuesday 30th November, 400 students from St Andrews signed a petition committing themselves against tuition fees, urging for transparency in the University’s finances and consultations on any future financial restructuring, opposing cuts in frontline teaching, and asking the Student Association to adopt a more pro-active stance on campaigning against cuts and tuition fees.

Awareness was also raised by a group of students who put on some direct action theatre. They burst into lecture theatres, one dressed as Higher Education, one as the grim reaper and one as a businessman, and the businessman set the grim reaper on Higher Education.

On the 1st of December, the Student Association released a statement declaring their position, saying they oppose the central government’s cuts to teaching budgets, increases of tuition fees in England and introduction of tuition fees in Scotland. They have joined other Students’ Associations and the National Union of Students in asking the government to explore the graduate tax as a possible fairer alternative to tuition fees. Full details of the Student Association’s position can be found at here.

Students at St Andrews can get involved by visiting Vote Against Fees and sending an email to all the Liberal Democrat MPs not committed to backing Scotland in Thursday’s vote. An email can also be sent to Tavish Scott MSP, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, encouraging him to publically demand that Liberal Democrat MPs vote ‘no’ to an increase in tuition fees. Alternatively students can show their solidarity by joining the nationwide facebook group against tuition fees .

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