John McFall, Lord McFall of Alcluith, has said in the House of Lords that the Scottish Government is “having its cake and eating it” on university funding, and that education must be a “UK-wide initiative.”
Speaking in the House of Lords debate on the Scotland Bill, Lord McFall said that the high level of applications from English students to study at Scottish universities, coupled with the Scottish Government’s cuts in funding to those universities, could “cause chaos” next year.
Lord McFall said that a “dishonest conversation” had taken place in Scotland on the university system and that the integrity of the UK system must be upheld.
“My Lords, … as Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, I was very aware of the number of Northern Ireland students who went to Scotland for their education and, indeed, stayed in Scotland or in the UK generally as a result. I was left with the lasting impression that education is a UK-wide initiative. In a globalised world where the transfer of wealth and economic power is going from west to east, we have to keep the integrity of the UK education system, but I fear that we are losing it with the current situation in Scotland.
“The noble Lord, Lord Vallance, and Scottish universities have made the point about the stability of the system. In particular, cross-border student flow is given at 24,000 students from England applying to Scottish universities, which could cause chaos for 2013. That is a legitimate argument, but the main issue here is the actions of the Scottish Funding Council, which in a letter in December last year said that £27.8 million was going to be taken off Scottish universities. In the next four years, the sum will be more than £100 million. That is not a capricious act on the part of the Scottish Funding Council; it is because the Scottish Government have stated that that is the case. That will decrease the teaching grants as well as the quality of student experience at Scottish universities.
“We are facing a crisis at the present time and it is appropriate for us to debate this. … Frankly, the Scottish Government are having their cake and eating it. This amendment should be saying to them: “You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you want to provide quality education, then you have to be honest about it”. A dishonest conversation has taken place in Scotland and there is a narrow, introspective approach to education where there should be an inclusive, global approach. If we are making a plea for anything tonight, it is to be honest in our debate and ensure that we will look at the UK as a whole and keep the integrity of the UK education system, so that we have a more prosperous country with increased skills which can accept and face up to the challenges of globalisation in the years ahead. We should not run backwards, as, sadly, I think is happening in Scotland at the moment.”