McConnell: No top-up fees under my leadership

Scottish first minister Jack McConnell has insisted he has no plans to introduce tuition fees, after the parliament voted to increase fees for English medical students by 125 per cent.

The move, which will see fees rise from £1,200 a year to £2,700, is designed to cut the number of people heading north of the border for cheaper university courses.

Mr McConnell rejected suggestions by the Scottish National party (SNP) that this was a way of introducing top-up fees for all students in Scotland by the back door.

“We are not introducing variable top-up tuition fees, we have no intention of doing so and it will not happen as long as I am first minister,” he told MSPs.

Earlier, the first minister indicated he would like to stay in power for at least five more years, saying the decision “will depend on what I think needs to be done in Scotland”.

In a debate in the Scottish parliament, he insisted that action needed to be taken to secure medical school places for Scottish students, who were more likely to stay in the country to practice than their English colleagues.

“Today’s measures are practical, down-to-earth measures that will achieve that. For the SNP to oppose them is probably the most anti-Scottish thing that it has ever done,” he said.

Speaking after the debate, however, shadow education minister Fiona Hyslop warned the new fees for English students threatened the “egalitarian nature of Scottish education and threaten[s] the multicultural atmosphere in our universities”.

“Scotland’s future economic success depends on an excellent university system, and that means not having a ‘fortress Scotland’ mentality,” the MSP said.

From this September, English universities will be able to charge up to £3,000 a year in tuition fees, although students will take out a loan to cover this and only have to pay that when they begin earning.

Scotland has always prided itself on refusing to introduce such a move, although students are obliged to pay a £2,000 endowment once they graduate.

The SNP are calling for both the new fees for medical students and the “back-end” graduate endowment system to be scrapped.