The sustainability of Scottish universities funding could “quickly unravel” under rumoured plans to cut tuition fees in the rest of the UK, education chiefs have warned.
A UK Government-commissioned review of student finance is expected to call for fees to be reduced from £9,250 to £7,500 per year, a move which would create a £31 million funding gap for Scottish institutions.
Tuition remains free for all Scottish and EU national students, with the exception of those living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, so institutions have come to rely on fees brought in by those signing up to attend from the rest of the UK or abroad.
A review, commissioned by Theresa May and led by financial expert Philip Augar, is expected to be published in the coming weeks and education bosses have warned its findings could have “serious implications” for the future of Scottish universities.
Universities Scotland insisted a loss of income generated by the nearly 22,000 students who choose to come to Scotland to study from the rest of the UK would damage the sustainability of the current funding model.
“Speculation about Augar’s recommendations is reaching fever pitch ahead of publication because their potential impact on students and universities could be huge,” a spokesperson said.
“It’s a mistake to think this is an English-only issue. The impact will be significant in every part of the UK. The next Cabinet at Westminster needs to take time and give proper consideration to the cross-UK implications in how it responds to Augar.”
The academic body insisted maintaining the sustainability of higher education institutions in all parts of the UK and protecting the movement of students who choose to study in Scotland would be “key tests” for any new funding model.
The spokesperson added: “The Scottish Government has made fees from rest of UK students a key part of the funding mix for Scottish universities.
“We can’t lose that income without the sustainability of our funding model quickly unravelling, adding to what is already a very high-risk environment for higher education.”
Universities across Tayside and Fife declined to be drawn on their own views until the findings of the report is published.
But writing in The Times, Glasgow University principal Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli warned of the impact in Scotland of any reduction in fees signed off at Westminster.
He said: “Unless the Westminster government commits to funding the shortfall, it will cause a £2 billion funding gap.
“While higher education is a devolved matter, there seems to have been no consultation to explain how a loss in Scotland of about £31 million from our universities’ reduced fee intake paid by students from the rest of the UK could be offset.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: “Professor Muscatelli is rightly focused on the effects that any UK government policy changes to tuition fees will have on Scottish higher education institutions, and we are deeply concerned by the issues raised by him.”