The Scottish National Party is a centre-left movement that would like to see the northern territory free and fully independent. Leader Alex Salmond (who is also First Minister of Scotland) has promised that Scottish university education for Scottish students shall continue to be free for as long as he is allowed his way. Was this designed to irritate his political lords and masters in Whitehall, London too? With politicians, one never knows.
His pledge made at a party conference in Glasgow is in sharp contrast to United Kingdom government policy of forcing institutions to raise university fees sharply to become more financially self-sufficient. Its timing was significant too, in terms of Scottish Parliament elections due to test his minority coalition in May. It also aligns with previous remarks that education must be based on the ability to learn, not pay and the broad policy base of the party as well.
The cap on university fees throughout England was £3,290 until recently, but will now go up to £9,000 by September 2012. By comparison, Scottish authorities made Scottish university education free when they scrapped the graduate endowment charge in 2008. Moves are afoot to ratchet up the charges levied on English, Welsh and Northern Irish students studying there to £6,000 – is this a plan to keep Scottish lecture rooms full at relatively low bargain-basement rates?
According to Mr. Salmond Scotland pioneered free education for all in an age of Scottish enlightenment, and he is not prepared to mortgage its future now. With typical nationalistic fervor he added that the rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students - upfront or backdoor.
And there, for now, the power struggle rests with battle lines drawn firmly on the subject of what a Scottish university education ought to cost a Scottish student.