SNP MPs have consistently opposed the Higher Education Bill since it was introduced by the UK Government in July last year. In regards to your comments on the Lords Amendments, I agree with you that the TEF should not be linked to tuition fees and it is something my SNP colleagues and I have consistently opposed. As you will be aware, the SNP believe that education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay and it is a fundamental principle of mine that tuition fees should be scrapped entirely.
It seems, though, that the arguments made by the Lords regarding the speed at which the TEF is being introduced and the need for further review of the scheme have been taken into consideration. Any future increases in tuition fee limits would automatically require the approval of both Houses of Parliament and I can guarantee that SNP MPs will always vote against tuition fee rises as a matter of principle.
There will also be an independent review of the TEF to commence in 2018. This review would have to consider: the process by which ratings are determined; whether the metrics are fit for purpose; whether the classifications awarded are appropriate; the impact of the scheme on higher education providers; and whether the TEF is in the public interest. As we have done throughout the Bill, SNP MPs will be holding the UK Government to account on this review and working hard to ensure that both the Scottish Government and Scottish HEIs – including staff and students – will have an input into this review.
My SNP colleagues and I have also been consistent in our opposition to the increasing marketization of the higher education sector, which would have a detrimental impact on Scotland’s world-renowned higher education sector.
Finally, I fundamentally disagree with the UK Government on their student immigration policy and continue to call on the UK Government to take international students out of the net migration target. The policies of the UK Government are already making it harder and harder for our education institutions to attract the best talent from abroad. International students make an important contribution to Scotland’s economy and we must do everything we can to ensure they are welcome into the UK and to Scotland. While this Bill will not address this situation, rest assured that SNP MPs will be fighting hard for international students, including calling for the reinstatement of a post-study work visa when the future immigration legislation is brought forward by the UK Government.