This week's THE has an informative article on the differences in university funding across the UK, and the emerging issues around the flow of students throughout the UK. In "Toll Barriers", David Matthews writes:
Increased tuition fees could dramatically alter the flow of students around the UK, with many choosing not to travel outside their home country. … When their tuition fees almost triple next year, English students are expected to begin a mass scramble in search of the best-value degree. As they are unlikely to stop at England's borders, the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments plan to raise their fees to stop students from the rest of the UK scaling Hadrian's Wall and pouring across Offa's Dyke in search of a cheap education. Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision, but already it is clear that there will be a bewildering range of fees across the UK. Although it is impossible to say how everything will play out, observers are already highlighting some likely consequences. These include: confusion for students; less diversity on campus; a fall in the number of English students studying in Scotland and a collapse in the numbers going the other way; a threat to the teaching grant for Welsh institutions - and even more turmoil for universities already reeling from the pace of change.
The effect is likely to be particularly sharply felt in Scotland. Currently, English domicile students pay significantly less than in England if they study in Scotland (£1820 as against £3375), but this sharp differential will vanish next year as all the devolved administrations look to match the fees charged by English universities – for English students, that is, not for their own, or other administrations', or those from other EU states. Matthews' article includes a clear table on what the position is now, and is likely to be.
Whilst you can see Scottish policy-makers' fear of a mad rush north if this differential (which is partly of their own making) is not removed, I'd be surprised if there were not another thought in their minds: that a cross-border flow of funds would be useful, thank you very much, to help off-set some of the huge funding gap now being experienced by Scottish universities because of Scottish policy on fees. As Matthews notes:
According to a report published in February by the Scottish government and Universities Scotland, if universities in England had set their 2012-13 fees at an average of £8,000 a year, Scottish universities would face an annual teaching funding gap of £263 million by 2014-15 compared with their counterparts south of the border. Given that the average fee announced by English universities (before fee waivers) has turned out to be £393 higher than the £8,000 on which those figures were based, the gap could be even wider.
... and it's clear that not all Scottish universities think that the gap is actually as high / low as £263m, some seeing this as a significant under-estimate.
Either way, thus it is, that subsidy hides in the wake of liberty – the twin moral virtues of a greater independence.