Universities face black hole
Sturgeon rules out tuition fees change to ease cash crisis
Universities depend on overseas students
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon today ruled out introducing tuition fees for Scottish students to help the financial crisis looming at Scotland’s universities.
Following a new warning that the sector is facing a £500 million funding ‘black hole’, Ms Sturgeon said the government will do what it can to help, but said it was for universities to draw on their own assets as businesses are doing.
Critics of the free tuition policy for Scottish students say it has encouraged and forced universities to seek income from overseas students, potentially leaving them dependent on this source of revenue.
Edinburgh university, which has an annual income of £1bn, is now facing the likelihood of a large drop in the number of students from outside Europe, some of whom pay tuition fees of £30,000 a year.
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While precise numbers cannot be known at this stage, there have been warnings of at least a 25% fall, with the possibility of a complete collapse in applications.
Recent Scottish Funding Council (SFC) analysis indicated Scottish universities face a loss of around £72m due to COVID-19 this academic year alone, with a collective operating deficit of between £384m and £651m forecast for next academic year.
University of Edinburgh principal Peter Mathieson said in a radio interview that its income could drop by up to £150m as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
He said the university may no longer need its current number of buildings and facilities.
Asked at her daily briefing about the financial pressures and whether she would consider the “unthinkable” and change the student fees policy, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am not considering introducing fees for Scottish students.
“My views are based on your ability to learn not your ability to pay.”
She accepted that universities are being “significantly hit” but the government has provided £75m of support for research.
“We continue to have close discussions but they will be expected to use their own assets as businesses have to do,” she said.
She hoped that the UK government will take action “which they have not done” so far.