Students from Scotland will not see tuition fees introduced in the country for degree courses at universities in future, the Education Secretary has pledged.
Around 26,000 Scottish young people will start or return to university this week following announcements that students from other parts of the UK will face fees of 9,000-a-year in the future at universities including St Andrews and Edinburgh.
The SNP government was elected on a pledge that it would not introduce fees or graduate contributions from students who live in Scotland.
Education Secretary Michael Russell said: “The Scottish Government has maintained the principle of free education. There are not and will not be tuition fees for Scottish domiciled students. This means that young people living in Scotland will not be burdened by huge levels of debt which detracts from their own personal success and from economic growth and job creation.
“The current average graduate debt for Scottish borrowers is £6,480, and we are working to reduce that further, compared to £17,240 for those from England. Once the majority of universities in England charge fees of £9,000 the average debt of English graduates could be as much as £30,000.
“Clearly, in an ideal world we wouldn’t charge fees for students from the rest of the UK. However, we had to act as a result of the UK Government’s decision to charge fees of up to £9,000 a year in England – we are operating in a world where every pound counts and we must focus our budgets, which Westminster has reduced by £1.3 billion, on our priorities.”
He continued: “My priority is unequivocally Scottish students and Scottish universities. Protecting their access to education and the quality of teaching and research available to them. We have three universities in the world’s top 100, we have the highest student satisfaction levels in the UK and with only 0.1 % of the world’s population Scottish research received 1.8% of the world’s citations.”
The University of St Andrews set tuition fees at £9,000 a year for students from the rest of the UK after a decision to raise fees was sanctioned by the university court on Friday.
The university will charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland at the increased rate from the academic year 2012/2013 for all courses. The rise means an honours degree at St Andrews will cost £36,000, with the university joining Edinburgh in setting fees at the maximum level.
The university court in St Andrews also approved a new package of bursaries and financial aid. It will mean that entrant undergraduate students from the rest of the UK whose household income is less than £42,600 will face no upfront costs to attend the university.