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MPs open probe into future of Scotland’s universities

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP

@CommonsScotAffs – The future funding of Scotland’s universities and fees for overseas and non-EU students will be the subject of an inquiry launched today by the Scottish Affairs Committee.

The inquiry comes during a period of intense pressure on the sector. Scotland’s 19 universities face a ‘perfect storm’ as long-term budgetary challenges combined with a decline in international student fees as they stay away during the coronavirus pandemic, could lead to loses of up to £651m.

Typically, the sector survives on a combination of non-EU international students’ tuition fees, research grants from the Scottish Funding Council and money provided in the Scottish budget. Scottish and EU students do not pay tuition fees in Scotland. The current crisis has triggered interventions by both the UK and Scottish Governments to support research, institutions and student support, but questions remain over whether it will be enough. The Committee will look at the challenges and opportunities in funding models for Scottish universities and for student support in the country.

Given that international students’ fees provide a large chunk of total funding for universities in Scotland, it comes as no surprise that the sector harbours concerns about the impact policies set by the UK Government, such as the post-Brexit immigration system, will have on their institutions. The Committee will also use the inquiry as an opportunity to examine the impact policies made in Whitehall will have on Scottish Universities, their students, their employees and on research.

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP said:

“Education is going to be a critical part of the economic recovery as the country pulls itself out of the coronavirus crisis but Universities in Scotland, their staff and their students are anxious over what the future holds for them.

The pandemic has helped create a perfect storm that could see Universities in Scotland pushed to the brink, some may even fall, without careful consideration of policies that help to re-establish their foundations. The consequences of not doing so risks derailing the Government’s ambition to level up the UK, could deny a new generation of young people the opportunity to get on in life, and would hamper the quality of research on the international stage.

Our inquiry will explore the challenges and opportunities facing Scottish universities by looking at funding models for higher education and the role UK Government policies play in making a vibrant higher education sector post-Covid. We will examine how Scottish university research sits within UK university research. We want to hear from the establishments, their staff, students and research bodies to get a better picture of the entire system and offer recommendations to improve it.

Scotland universities rank amongst the world’s leading institutions. It’s important we explore policies that will keep them there following the crisis.”

The Committee calls for evidence for the inquiry to be submitted here by 19 October on the following issues;

  • The scale and nature of challenges and opportunities around funding for Scottish universities including funding models, deficits, overseas and EU students’ fees;
  • How Scottish university research fits in with UK university research; and
  • UK Government policy and how it effects universities, students, employees and research in Scotland.

Scottish Affairs Committee Membership: Pete Wishart (Chair) (SNP, Perth and North Perthshire), Mhairi Black (SNP, Paisley and Renfrewshire South), Andrew Bowie (Con, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine),  Deidre Brock (SNP, Edinburgh North and Leith), Wendy Chamberlain (Lib Dem, North East Fife), Alberto Costa (Con, South Leicestershire), Jon Cruddas (Lab, Dagenham and Rainham), Sally-Ann Hart (Con, Hastings and Rye), John Lamont (Con, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk), Douglas Ross (Con, Moray), Liz Twist (Lab, Blaydon).  

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