A THINK tank linked to a former Labour first minister has called for the end of free university education for all in Scotland.

Reform Scotland – of which Lord Jack McConnell is the chair of the board of trustees – said Scottish graduates should pay back a proportion of their fees when they are making enough to do so.

It is claimed this will mean more Scots will be able to attend university, pointing to figures which show a 84% increase in the number of Scottish-domiciled applicants being refused entry to universities in Scotland since 2006.

As it stands, the Scottish Government sets the amount of funding it will provide to Scottish universities each year in order to cover free tuition for domicile students in Scotland.

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The briefing, titled Scrap The Cap, argues that those who receive a financial benefit from attending university should pay back some of their tuition fees, while those who cannot afford to pay should repay “little or nothing”.

The think tank has also suggested that the Scottish Government could look to introduce schemes to cut or scrap repayments for graduates who remain in Scotland in order to work in certain sectors for set periods of time.

Reform Scotland’s research director and co-author of Scrap the Cap, Alison Payne, who served as a Scottish Tory political adviser, said: “While society as a whole benefits from having a well-educated workforce, the individual graduates themselves also benefit from the higher earnings they accrue.

“However, at present in Scotland, only wider society pays through the tax system for graduates who are originally from Scotland.

“The funding arrangement may seem like it benefits Scots as there are no direct fees to pay to attend university, but it has also created an artificial cap on the number of Scottish students that can study in Scotland.

“Our young people’s ambition is being stifled by how we fund higher education.”

Lindsay Paterson, professor of education policy in the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, and member of Reform Scotland’s Commission on School Reform, added: “We need to scrap this unfair cap.

“To do that, graduates should contribute towards the cost of their higher education by means of a deferred fee, to be repaid once they earn more than the Scottish average salary.

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“The proceeds from the repaid fees would free up money to provide bursaries for entrants to university from low-income families.

“Such a system would ensure a ‘no win, no fee’ university education.

“This change is not only inevitable, it is also right.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to free higher education for Scotland-domiciled students and access to university being based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“Our continued commitment to free tuition ensures that eligible Scottish domiciled students studying in Scotland do not incur up to £27,750 of additional student loan debt and produces the lowest student debt levels in the UK.”

Tuition fees were scrapped in Scotland during the first years of the new Scottish Parliament, then controlled by a Labour-LibDem coalition and replaced by a graduate endowment, similar to what is being proposed by Reform Scotland. 

The graduate endowment was scrapped by the SNP after the party took power in 2007. 

Scottish Labour told The National the party's position on tution fees was unchanged since its 2021 manifesto which said it would "ensure free tuition is fully funded". 

Jack McConnell is the chair of Reform Scotland

Former First Minister Alex Salmond, who once delared that the "rocks would melt with the sun" before the SNP ended free tuition, said: "In the midst of a cost of living crisis provoked by the right wing policies of Westminster Government the very last thing Scotland needs is this homegrown right wing dogma from Reform Scotland.

"To propose reintroducing student fees in an environment of soaring interest rates reflects the folly of people personally insulated from the economic pressures impacting on working families."