Voting For A New Britain: Scots to ditch tuition fees

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The Independent Online
TUITION FEES for all Scottish students are expected to be abolished early in the life of the new Scottish Parliament. The move would be an embarrassment for Tony Blair, creating the anomaly of students from England paying fees of pounds 1,000 a year while Scots paid nothing, wherever in the UK they might be studying.

The Prime Minister has been harried over tuition fees at each of the question time sessions he has held in Scotland. It has usually been the hottest issue raised, but Mr Blair has insisted that fees are essential if more young people are to get a university or college place.

With fuel tax, student tuition fees has been the leading issue in the campaign. All three main parties ranged against Labour are committed to abolishing fees. Even if, as expected, Labour emerges as the biggest party in the Edinburgh parliament, it is unlikely to be able to out-vote a move to end fees.

Jim Wallace, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, said yesterday that tuition fees would be "a dead issue" by the end of the first four- year parliament. Even Scottish Tories are against fees, describing them as "a tax on learning".

Abolishing fees for 25,000 students a year who are domiciled in Scotland, no matter where in the UK they are at university, would cost pounds 38m a year. The anomaly of students from England having to pay the cost of a fourth year at a Scottish university would be removed, though they would be paying for the first three years.

Defeat over tuition fees need not bring down any administration led by Donald Dewar, Labour's leader in Scotland, but would certainly reawaken the fees issue in England, to Mr Blair's discomfort.

The Scottish National Party and the Liberal Democrats are also proposing multi-million-pound grant schemes to help students from poorer homes.