Higher education in Scotland will remain free after the Scottish government elections in May—whoever wins.
The decision follows the collapse last week of attempts to introduce a “graduate contribution” scheme. This is little more than a Scottish euphemism for the hated tuition fees that exist elsewhere in Britain.
All mainstream Scottish political parties, university principals, and the National Union of Students (NUS) supported the plan on Monday of last week.
But by Friday this coalition had collapsed, leaving just the rump of the Tories and the university principals backing them.
The victory is so total that even the Liberal Democrats now claim to support free education, and are rushing to disown Nick Clegg’s betrayals.
The speed of the victory has left many in shock, asking how we won and why?
One wrong answer is that many MSPs suddenly rediscovered that they were the first child in their family to go to university—something fees will prevent others from doing.
Rather, it is the public pressure politicians are under as they approach the Scottish parliamentary elections in May.
Mainstream political parties sought to neutralise the issue of tuition fees by establishing an inquiry, due to report after the election.
Yet the popularity and anger of the student movement—coupled with the Scottish National Party (SNP) government’s fading support—saw the nationalists engage in a desperate bid to win back votes.
It announced that the cost of not introducing fees was around £100 million—far lower than the £400 million parroted by the pro-fees campaign—and that this could be afforded.
Since the SNP’s announcement all political parties have raced to announce their own brand of “free” education.
The shift has been so fast that the NUS didn’t get a chance to formally abandon its support for a graduate contribution scheme before it was dead in the water.
As the Herald newspaper journalist Iain MacWirter insightfully noted, “The single most important factor in altering the climate of political opinion was the campaign mounted by university students south of the border and in Scotland last November and December.”
This week saw the first strike in a Scottish university against cuts at Dundee. It united students and workers and many on the picket lines knew that if we can stop tuition fees, we can stop the cuts.