The options for the graduate contribution

6.24 Having agreed that a contribution should be made towards the costs of their education by graduates in work, the National Committee has considered a range of options including variations of graduate tax and varying degrees of balance between means-testing and non-means testing, loans and grants, and contributions towards tuition and maintenance. These are outlined in detail in the National Committee's report.

6.25 Of the options examined, the National Committee is proposing that the Government explores 'Option B', the 'tuition contribution option', which comprises:

  • an annual flat rate commitment on the part of graduates in work to pay a contribution towards approximately 25 per cent of the average tuition costs of all programmes - approximately 1,000 at current rates;
  • maintenance continuing to be available with 50 per cent loans and 50 per cent means tested grants, as now;
  • loans for maintenance and the tuition contribution being made available to students on a non-means-tested basis;
  • loans for maintenance and the tuition contribution being repayable on an income-contingent basis at zero real interest rates in line with inflation;
  • loans being deferrable if the graduate's income is below a certain level and cancelled on death or when the borrower reaches 65;
  • a range of conditions to protect vulnerable students including additional allowances available through means-tested grants.

Implications for Scottish students
Such an option would bring clarity and simplicity to a complex issue but would also mean that the four-year, 480-credit-point honours degree in Scotland would cost 4,000 compared to 3,000 for an honours degree in the rest of the UK. We believe that comparable qualification outcomes, as outlined in the two qualifications frameworks, should cost students the same, wherever they are studied in the UK. Implementation of a graduate contribution option should be equitable and should not disadvantage Scottish students or graduates.

The distinctive nature of the Scottish educational system has been recognised by the National Committee which has recommended that school students in Scotland who have had only one year's education after statutory schooling should not have to make a tuition contribution for one of their years of higher education. We agree that that the Secretary of State should give consideration to this proposal although the Secretary of State will also wish to take into account the other complexities such as the major changes proposed to the upper secondary curriculum in Scotland.

6.28 Whilst the Scottish Committee is seeking equity of fees for comparable awards across the UK we are aware that the issue is complex. Only a small minority of entrants to higher education currently come through the Fifth Year (S5) route and there are many other routes to be considered. There are a small number of entrants with A levels and in future we expect that the Advanced Higher will be an important entry route. In principle, as we have stated in Chapter 4, we believe that entry into the higher education levels of the qualifications framework should be at the highest possible level. Large numbers of students enter higher education in Scotland from Sixth Year (S6) and there is also a substantial proportion of, largely mature, entrants coming through the non-school route either from further education, access courses or employment.

6.29 We have concluded that, in formulating an appropriate contribution from Scottish graduates, the Secretary of State for Scotland will have to consider the potential implications for participants in Scottish higher education, entering from this wide and diverse range of sources and the need to ensure that the Scottish tradition of access is maintained.

Recommendation 29
We recommend to the Secretary of State for Scotland that, if a graduate contribution is introduced, the Secretary of State should ensure that the contribution from Scottish graduates for qualifications gained in Scotland is equitable with the contribution for comparable qualifications gained elsewhere in the UK.

Longer courses
. The National Committee's recommendation would also mean that those students on programmes of study which are longer than four years, such as architecture, medicine, dentistry and veterinary programmes, and those on 'higher honours' courses would have to pay a higher contribution towards the costs of their studies. Where such longer programmes are of a further year's length in Scotland, compared to the rest of the UK, the Secretary of State should apply the equity principle as we have recommended above.

6.31 Where longer programmes are of an identical length and outcome across the UK, there would be equity of contribution. We endorse the National Committee's recommendation that the Government should consider introducing bursary or scholarship arrangements for those on such programmes. We should like to suggest that the Secretary of State for Scotland might wish to monitor entrants to ensure that access from under-represented groups, and particularly social classes IIIm, IV and V, is not inhibited by the higher contribution.

Rest of Chapter