SCOTTISH universities are increasingly relying on income from tuition fees rather than public funding, prompting warnings that a two-tier system is being created.

Figures show money generated by fees from international students and those from the rest of the UK (rUK) has now topped £94 million and accounts for 45 per cent of the sector’s teaching income.

In 2010, universities generated just £37m from tuition fees which represented 39 per cent of their teaching income.

While most universities still rely on public funding to pay for teaching, the figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency - which also include cash from educational contracts - show Edinburgh, St Andrews and Heriot-Watt universities all generated more money from private sources in 2014/15.

The figures prompted warnings from student leaders of the risk of a two-tier system with paying students becoming increasing important to institutions.
Vonnie Sandlan, president of student body NUS Scotland, said: “We need to be cautious that increasing income from fees from the rest of the UK doesn’t lead to the kind of marketisation that we’ve seen south of the Border.

“We cannot allow tuition fees to be the start of a two-tier system with institutions differentiating between those who pay fees and those who don’t and racing to recruit the former at the expense of the latter.

“More than anything, the standards, quality, services and outcomes at every university should be the same for all students regardless of the price tag a
university puts on them.”

Ms Sandlan stressed that not every university would see the same benefits from higher rUK fees and warned that the most popular institutions should not be able to monopolise income from fees.

She said: “We want to see universities supporting all students equally, regardless of where they are from, and proving that Scotland’s commitment to widen access and support students is driven by a student’s ability to learn, not their ability to pay.”

However, a spokeswoman for Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said neither teaching nor research was funded at full economic cost meaning universities had to deliver “more for less”.

She said: “Public investment in universities allows them to go out and win other sources of income and this data shows universities are working hard to make public investment go as far as possible.

“Teaching funding for home students has not met the full costs of that tuition for some time and has just been cut again. This makes fee income from other sources essential to universities’ ability to continue to offer high quality education.”

Universities Scotland said tuition fee income was invested across a range of disciplines to boost teaching staff, improve libraries and equipment and develop innovative approaches to learning.

A Scottish Government spokesman said universities had experienced record applications in recent years, adding: “We are continuing to invest over £1 billion in the sector to ensure it keeps punching above its weight on a global level.”