Scotland’s Salmon Celebrates Free Tuition in Swan Song

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Alex Salmond, Scotland’s outgoing First Minister, has unveiled a commemorative stone at Heriot-Watt University inscribed with his 2011 comment pertaining to university costs: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.”

The stone, weighing in at almost a ton, was carved by stonemason apprentices Gregor Alcorn and Ross Kennedy at Historic Scotland’s National Conservation Centre in Elgin, using Clashach Sandstone, the same stone used for the building of the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Steve Chapman, Heriot-Watt’s principal, said: “We are delighted to host this stone, a beautifully crafted piece and a monument to Alex Salmond’s tenure as First Minister and his strongly held commitment to access to education for Scottish students.”  

Alex Salmond has said of the decision to do away with tuition fees as the “single biggest achievement” on the part of his government during his seven-and-a-half years in office.

“The single biggest achievement by this Government has been the abolition of tuition fees. This one action has restored Scotland’s long tradition of education being based on ability to learn – not the ability to pay.”

However, not everyone shares his sentiments.  Liz Smith, spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives’ young people, said the free tuition has “done nothing to widen access,” and instead has pressured universities to find tuition-paying students elsewhere to make up the money they are losing, thereby “freezing out” Scottish students.

In addition, Conservatives brought up evidence showing that the free tuition movement has not helped the poor obtain degrees.  In fact, the numbers show the majority of those to benefit are middle-class students who would have attended college anyway.

This year’s UCAS figures show that only 9.4% of university applicants came from low-performing school districts.  In addition, an Edinburgh University study from last year discovered that the free tuition policy focused the majority of its “resources on those who are already relatively advantaged.”

In comparison, the rate of university applicants from low-performing school districts in England this year was 17.1%.  The country was found to put three times the amount of resources as Scotland does into financial help for its poor students.  They are able to do so from income received from fees.

Yet, when met with this information Salmond replied by stating the number of poor children attending university in the country has risen from 6% to 9%.

As somebody who had a modest upbringing in a council scheme in Linlithgow, whose parents in an atmosphere of both free education and full grant, scrimped and saved to send four children to university, I know what a challenge and what would have happened with the imposition of large debt to people like myself.”