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Keeping up with tuition fee decisions and related developments across the United Kingdom continues to challenge the stamina of even the most ardent higher education news junkie. Following are some key developments and issues to watch in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
On 12 September, Northern Ireland’s (NI) Employment and Learning Minister, Stephen Farry, confirmed a new series of higher education funding arrangements, on the heels of a consultation process that ran from 15 March through 10 June 2011. Unlike England, but in line with Scotland, NI has decided that—apart from adjustments in line with inflation—it will not raise its higher education tuition fees for its own students or those from the EU (excluding England, Scotland and Wales). For 2011/12, this puts yearly tuition at GBP 3 375 (EUR 3 883), rising to GBP 3 465 (EUR 3 987) in 2012/13. In addition, the NI Executive has given two universities (Ulster and Queen’s University Belfast) the right to charge students from Great Britain (i.e., England, Scotland and Wales) up to GBP 9 000 (EUR 10 355) per year in tuition. Times Higher Education, however, reports that Ulster might opt to keep tuition low for these “rest-of-UK” students as a way to lure discount-seekers among them.
In keeping fees lower for its own, NI anticipates seeing pressure build on its higher education system to admit more local students. The Ministry of Employment and Learning says it will work with higher education providers to “facilitate a modest increase in the number of student places”, to be phased in over a number of years and “only…in areas of economic relevance”.
Scotland’s tuition fee plans, particularly for students who are “resident in other parts of the UK” (RUK), are also evolving. A report released this month by the Scottish government – Putting Learners at the Centre: Delivering our Ambitions for Post-16 Education – reiterates the government commitment to not charge tuition fees for Scottish students. At the same time, Scotland has recently concluded a consultation on proposals for legislation to allow Scottish universities to set their own fees for RUK students. For the moment, the sector has voluntarily agreed to observe a cap on these fees of GBP 9 000 for 2012/13, with press reports indicating that several Scottish universities having taken the decision to charge RUK students at this highest possible rate. Ultimately, if Scottish universities are granted through legislation the right to set their own RUK fee levels, the report notes that the Scottish Funding Council would no longer count those students and would therefore realise a savings in terms of money allocated based on student numbers. However, the government would then look to turn those savings around in support of “high cost subjects…where Scotland might otherwise lose its competitive edge”. Interestingly, the government expects to outline plans in early 2012 for an “EU management fee” to be paid by EU students, to the extent this could possible under European law. The legality of charging tuition is also under discussion in the context of a challenge being brought against Scotland by the law firm Public Interest Lawyers, claiming that RUK fees in Scotland are in violation of Britain’s Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.Northern Ireland Executive Times Higher Education Scottish Government BBC News