Higher education is partly the responsibility of the SNP Scottish Government and my colleagues in Holyrood have worked tirelessly to ensure our higher education sector continues to be one of the best in the world. The SNP Scottish Government have committed over £1bn of investment this year towards higher education and one of the first acts of the SNP Scottish Government was to abolish tuition fees in 2007. The SNP believes that access to education should be based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay; our policy benefits 120,000 students in Scotland and is saving them from accruing debt of up to £27,000 which would have been the case under the policies of consecutive Labour, Tory and Lib Dem UK Governments.
As you may be aware, my SNP colleagues and I voted against the Higher Education and Research Bill at its Second Reading back for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the Bill allows universities to increase tuition fees and introduces a link between ‘teaching quality’ and fees, which is a worrying precedent to set. My colleagues and I are also cautious at the introduction of the new quality Teaching Excellence Framework given Scotland has its own quality assessment, which involves an Enhancement Led Institutional Review. However, this Bill does not give any assurances that the Scottish and English quality assessments will be put on an equal footing, which could lead to differences within the quality measuring systems that could have a huge impact on the reputation of Scotland’s higher education sector.
Scotland’s higher education sector is world renowned, is worth over £6 billion to our economy and is something myself and my colleagues within the SNP both respect and value. We must ensure this status of our higher education is not under threat and my colleagues, Carol Monaghan MP and Roger Mullin MP, have been working hard in the Higher Education Bill Committee to ensure that this Bill will have no detrimental impact in Scotland – either to our students, to our research sector, to our universities or to those staff within the sector. Moreover, the increasing marketization agenda of this Tory government is something that my colleagues and I do not want to see.
Within the Bill, the new UK-wide research body (the UKRI) only has to report to UK Government and not the Scottish Government. We are extremely concerned that Scottish-based research priorities will be lost and, consequently, this may impact on funding. Given this, my SNP colleagues have tabled amendments to ensure that all the devolved administrations have representation on the UKRI board as well as asking the UK Government to consult with the Scottish Government before making any decisions on research priorities so that Scotland will have a fair and rightful say.
You may be interested to note that the UK Government were not supportive of any of the SNP’s amendments, which, after the UK’s decision to leave the EU, means more uncertainty for the higher education sector in Scotland. My colleagues will be looking to amend the Bill again at the next stage of debate, which will take place in the coming weeks.