Pressure is mounting on higher education institutions in Glasgow to resist charging maximum fees to students from the rest of the UK (RUK) after Glasgow Caledonian University last week became the first university in Scotland to declare levels lower than £9,000 a year.
Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland arriving at the institution from 2012-13 onwards are to face an annual expense of £7,000, with the total cost capped at £21,000.
The decision leaves Glasgow Caledonian in thus far unoccupied territory after Edinburgh, St Andrews, the University of Aberdeen and Heriot-Watt all opted to introduce fees of £9,000 a year for RUK students, albeit with the latter half vowing to only charge for the first three years of degrees.
Student leaders welcomed the restraint demonstrated by the Glasgow-based institution against a backdrop of calls for neighbours Glasgow and Strathclyde to take a similar route.
A decision is likely to be reached at Glasgow in the next fortnight, while Strathclyde’s Executive Team, which is comprised of the university’s most senior staff, were preparing to meet as The Journal went to print followed by a meeting of Senate, the institution’s highest academic body, a day after.
Sources close to the negotiations intimated initial discussions suggested levels of £9,000 could be on the cards for certain subjects but that no overarching consensus has since been reached ahead of a meeting of University Court on September 27. Last year, 445 RUK students studied at Strathclyde with numbers in the forthcoming academic year likely to remain relatively stable.
The recent wave of announcements come after education secretary Michael Russell unveiled plans allowing Scottish universities to set their own levels at up to £9,000 per year. The fees, which will not apply to Scottish students, were introduced to ensure institutions north of the border remain competitive with rivals in the rest of the UK.
Robin Parker, president of National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, said: “We fully reject any increase in fees, but we’re calling on Strathclyde and other universities yet to set their fees to take a different path from Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt or from English universities by minimising fee levels and by providing a robust bursary package for the poorest students.
“The decisions taken by the Westminster Government to raise fees down south and by the Scottish Government to allow a maximum of £9,000 a year for students from the rest of the UK students has already set off a dangerous race to the top which could see all but the most affluent students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales priced out of education.
“Setting tuition fees at this rate will go way beyond the level that is needed to protect places for Scottish students at Strathclyde University and will only serve to damage its reputation for students from the rest of the UK.”
The University and College Union (UCU) Scotland echoed calls for a “sensible” approach to the setting of levels. Scottish official Mary Senior, said: “The cranking up of fee levels started by Aberdeen University is a cause of real concern as other universities now consider their own charges.
“Universities who need to set lower fees to attract more students will now be pressurised to follow this trend or risk be seen as a lower quality university. A dangerous precedent that will leave universities charging high fees to a diminishing body of other UK students.
“Glasgow Caledonian have at least been sensible in setting a fee that will be attractive to other UK students and not following the worrying trend of maximum fees. We hope that other Glasgow universities follow their lead rather than the staggering fees announced by Edinburgh.”
Glasgow Caledonian principal Professor Pamela Gillies said lower levels together with bursaries for students from low-income backgrounds would ensure the city’s newest university remains accessible to all.
Prof Gillies said: “At Glasgow Caledonian University, we are committed to providing an educational opportunity for talented students whatever their circumstances.
“For this reason, we have set a fee level that reflects the high value of our degree programmes, but through an appropriate scholarship and bursary scheme will also ensure that our degrees are within reach of all who may benefit.”
Matte Andrews, president of Glasgow Caledonian University Students’ Association, said: “While we are opposed to any fee rise in principle, we are glad that GCU has not set fees at the ridiculous levels we have seen elsewhere.”