By a Newsnet reporter
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has signalled her party are to ditch plans for free education for Scottish students.
The fears follow reports of a speech given by Ms Lamont at the Scottish Fabian Society where she claimed that the SNP’s policy on free education was holding back some of Scotland’s most talented youngsters.
According to reports in the Telegraph newspaper, the leader of the Labour party in Scotland claims the Scottish Government’s policy on free education has not been properly worked through and is actually preventing students from poorer areas from attending college or university.
In reports of her speech she says: “We have a government that boasts about free education. Those of us who have scratched below the surface know it is costing us by denying opportunities for others to attend college or university
“When universities are forced to recruit more and more from outwith Scotland just to balance the books, it is inevitable that doors are being slammed shut on some of our brightest talent.”
In the speech, the Scottish Labour leader described the SNP’s University funding policy as an “affront” and accused the party of refusing to engage in an honest debate.
Ms Lamont’s attack comes despite her party’s pre-election pledge, when she was deputy leader, not to introduce tuition fees if elected in 2011.
Speaking just before the Holyrood elections, Ms Lamont’s then leader Iain Gray said:
“If I am First Minister, a Labour government will not introduce any upfront fees or graduate contribution for access to higher education in the lifetime of the next Parliament. There will be no price tag on education,”
Scottish Labour subsequently sent out 100,000 letters to Scotland’s students boasting of the pledge, which was described by the National Union of Students as “great news”.
The SNP responded to reports of the speech by the Scottish Labour leader by claiming it proved that only the SNP could be trusted with Scotland’s free education.
Commenting Joe Fitzpatrick, SNP MSP for Dundee City West, said Labour voters would be aghast that the party appeared to be abandoning progressive politics and again hitching themselves to Tories.
Mr Fitzpatrick said:
“This is Johann Lamont’s Nick Clegg moment. Labour are reverting to type on charging the young people of Scotland for their education. It was the Labour-Liberal coalition that introduced back-door tuition fees in Scotland – which were then abolished by the SNP – and Labour which brought in tuition fees south of the border.
“The SNP will never price Scottish young people out of an education. We are the only Party never to have voted for tuition fees, and as Alex Salmond has promised, the rocks will melt with the sun before we do so.”
The situation followed the introduction of tuition fees in England where students are charged up to £9000 in fees. Under the Scottish Government’s policy, students living in Scotland have their University fees paid for by the government whilst students living outwith Scotland are charged. The Scottish government put the estimated average annual fee for non-Scottish residents at £6,841 - which is less than the £8,509 average figure students are charged in England.
EU rules allow for EU residents to have their fees paid for by the Scottish Government.
Mr Fitzpatrick added:
“As the map produced by the European Students’ Union shows, the Scottish Government is one of only three countries to have delivered increased funding for the sector.
“The SNP Government is committed to maintaining free education, as well protecting places for Scottish students in Further and Higher Education.
“Johann Lamont needs to explain how this Tory policy fits in with her apparent left-wing credentials.”
The European Students Union surveyed the views of students on the impact of the global financial crisis on investment in higher education institutions as part of their Bologna with Student Eyes 2012 publication. The map shows Scotland is one of only three countries where students believe more investment has been made.