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Fee refugees cross border.

Byline: By Graeme Whitfield And David Bartlett

Hundreds of students from the North-East could head to Scotland for cheaper - but possibly inferior - degrees when university top-up fees are introduced in England, it was warned last night.

The prediction from students and headteachers came as it emerged that degrees in Scottish universities would be nearly pounds 2,000-a-year cheaper than in England if the Government pressed ahead with plans unveiled this week to introduce top-up fees south of the border.

At the same time, Scottish universities fear teaching standards will drop once English institutions get the increased funding the top-up fees will bring from 2006, allowing them to invest more heavily in research and poach the best staff with higher pay.

That could result in "fee refugees" from the North-East crossing the border for cheaper, but poorer, higher education courses.

A large number of students from the North-East traditionally cross the border but, currently, there is no financial advantage because tuition fee levels are the same across the UK.

In fact, because many Scottish courses last four years, students from the North-East can often end up worse off than if they went to universities in England or Wales, where courses tend to be three years.

But that will change if Labour's plans for tuition fees in England and Wales are passed this year.

Last night there were already calls for `quotas' to be imposed on Scottish universities to make sure Scottish students don't miss out.

A spokesman for the National Union of Students said yesterday: "The over-riding concern is that the best lecturers will go down south for better funding but a lot of students will come to Scotland for cheaper degrees."

John Dowler, head of Haydon Bridge High School, in Northumberland, said: "We already have quite a few of our students going to universities in Scotland, primarily because they have good reputations.

"Some are saying that if they got an offer from an English and a Scottish university they would probably choose the Scottish one when the top-up fees come into place."

Universities in Edinburgh are actively trying to recruit more pupils from the North-East as they are classed as local students for the purposes of Government targets.

A spokesman for Universities Scotland, which represents higher education institutions north of the border, said it was expecting more students from the North-East after tuition fees increase. He said: "We very much welcome students from the Newcastle area and all over England but we want them to come to Scotland because it's good, not because it's cheap."

A joint statement issued by Glasgow Caledonia University's principal Dr Ian Johnston and student president Daniel Steel warned yesterday that Scottish students could be forced out by `fee refugees'.

They have called on the Scottish Executive to address the issue to safeguard places for Scots.

That could result in quotas with universities having to reserve set numbers of places for Scots.

A spokesman for the Scottish Executive said last night: "The executive is aware of concerns around the potential effects on student movement if variable fees are introduced in England in 2006.

"We are currently working in collaboration with key stakeholders in the higher education sector on a third phase of a review of higher education in Scotland, which is addressing issues around the competitiveness of the sector in Scotland in light of developments in England.

"This review should report in February this year."

Minister on defensive as he comes under fire

School Standards Minister and South Shields MP David Miliband yesterday had to defend the Government's controversial tuition fees plans as they came under fire at the North of England Education Conference held in Belfast.

The minister claimed the proposals would build a "bigger and better" education system and said it was unfair that the taxpayer should shoulder the burden for this.

But Welsh education minister Jane Davidson said there was no guarantee that a similar system would be implemented in the principality and emphasised that different systems would be in place in England, Scotland and Wales. Education Secretary Charles Clarke said there would be no more "major changes" to the Government's package, unveiled on Thursday, despite the threat of a large scale rebellion from Labour backbenchers.

He said: "The university system of this country needs to know where it is going in the future and that means facing up to the choices, not least on funding, which are involved in that area."

Former cabinet minister and Tyneside MP Nick Brown is leading the rebellion, and he has been unmoved by Government attempts to pacify militant MPs.

He said: "We don't want a market place being created in higher education."
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Title Annotation:Education News
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 10, 2004
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