Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

Power to Learn


Both further and higher education, though very different in nature, contribute a great deal to society in Scotland and as such it is vital they are structured in a way which benefits both taxpayers and individual students alike. Reform Scotland believes that the proposals outlined in this paper present options which should be considered to make the structure and financing of tertiary education fairer to all concerned.

The report argues that university graduates should contribute towards the cost of their higher education as a deferred fee to be paid once they earn more than the average Scottish salary. While it is true to say that society as a whole benefits from having a well-educated workforce, the individual graduates themselves also benefit from the higher earnings they accrue. At present, only wider society pays for graduates through the tax system, while the graduate does not contribute directly. The introduction of a deferred fee would provide a better balance with the individual graduate as well as taxpayers contributing towards higher education. However, such a system should not deter anyone from entering higher education because the amount would not need to be paid up front and potentially would not be repaid if the earnings threshold is never crossed.

Other recommendations within the report include:
• The Scottish Qualifications Authority to become a fully-independent charitable trust with its accreditation role becoming part of the Scottish Government, while the Scottish Higher and Further Education Funding Council should be reintegrated within government
• Expansion of the current scheme to allow more pupils to study at colleges
• Greater tax powers for the Scottish Parliament which could be used to encourage more higher education funding through endowments
• Long-term plans to scrap means testing of student loans, enabling all Scottish students to claim the current maximum £4,625 a year loan
• Make it a condition of grant that HEIs are willing to take transfer students who have successfully completed Higher National Qualifications into later years of study on a degree course where the subject content is comparable

Although Reform Scotland’s approach to reforming public services throughout our series of reports has been driven by a desire to improve standards rather than to focus on costs, it is impossible to ignore the current economic situation facing Scotland. While we believe a deferred fee would make for a better, and fairer, system of funding higher education, the economic situation also strengthens the case for change. Before services such as healthcare or policing are targeted, it is only fair that the current system of university funding, which sees the less well-off contribute through their taxes for the better off to go to university, is reviewed.


Power to Learn