The six options under consideration are:
- the state retaining primary responsibility for funding
- the state retaining primary responsibility for funding but with a graduate contribution
- charging more for students who come to study from other parts of the UK
- increased donations and philanthropic giving
- more money from business
- efficiency savings
Basically what will happen now is that everybody will study the paper, get some magic numbers about future funding from John Swinney in January and will then draw up their own proposals to go in their manifestos for the election next year and whatever government is elected in May will act accordingly.
Liberal Democrat finance spokesman Jeremy Purvis only had a minute to respond but he used it well. After barbed encounters with Des McNulty, Liz Smith and George Foulkes, there was a bit more reason to the exchange with Jeremy. While the others concentrated on trying (and failing) to pin Mike Russell down on whether he would rule out or rule in a graduate contribution, Jeremy's question was typically practical. I'd always expect a Liberal Democrat to look at issues of fairness and he made the point that only 20% of students in higher education came from a poorer background, even with free tuition and it was important to address that. Mike Russell actually gave quite an intelligent response, saying how you needed to tackle that issue at the school and nursery gates with early intervention. That might be an encouraging sign that the SNP might be prepared to support a pupil premium like the Liberal Democrats are bringing in south of the border.
Liberal Youth Scotland are unimpressed by Mike Russell's statement, with their President Kristian Chapman saying:
“The only concrete announcement we’ve had from this SNP Government is that they are cutting 12% from University funding, but with no answers on how this will be replaced.
“NUS research has shown that a huge number of students have thought of dropping out because of a lack of student support, and again, we still have no answers from the SNP on how they will address this.”There's a long way to go on this. Mike Russell himself has given signs that he might be prepared to introduce a graduate contribution to pay for education. This would differ from the graduate endowment introduced by the Liberal Democrats in the first Holyrood coalition as it would actually mean graduates paid some of the cost of their education. The endowment did not pay for teaching staff or materials or lecture halls - it helped poor students go to university. So, Nicola Sturgeon, you can't take away the Liberal Democrat achievements in that first coalition. Without the Scottish Liberal Democrats, you'd have come into office with students paying fees and top up fees and you'd have had to have found the money to get rid of them, or not...