Free university tuition would be enshrined in a permanent Scottish constitution, a new independence paper has said.

Ministers have announced a raft of policy considerations on how the education would be run under independence as part of the 12th prospectus paper in the Building a New Scotland series.

While education is a devolved issue, Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth said independence would give Scotland the full powers to improve on the outcomes of children.

Alongside protecting free university tuition in a permanent constitution, the paper proposes enhancements to the length and level of paid maternity leave.

READ MORE: University places: Ministers were told funding cut posed risk to poor

It could also see the current statutory two-week leave and pay provision for partners extended as well as providing additional weeks of shared parental leave taken at the end of the 52-week maternity period.

Independence would also see Scotland look to rejoin the EU, with that presenting opportunities to participate in exchange programmes such as Erasmus.

It would also see 16 and 17-year-olds given voting rights in every election covered by Scottish legislation.

READ MORE: MSP in call to consider graduate endowment in wake of cuts

Ms Gilruth also argued independence would give Scotland “full powers” to tackle child poverty, such as scrapping the two-child benefit limit, as set out in a previous social security paper.

She said: “Our education system shows why making decisions in Scotland, for Scotland, is better for people who live here.

The Herald: Education Secretary Jenny Gilruth with Humza YousafEducation Secretary Jenny Gilruth with First Minister Humza Yousaf.  Photo: PA.

“Since 1999, we have been able to take choices to improve opportunities for our young people – including abolishing tuition fees, expanding free school meals and investing in transformational early learning and childcare.

READ MORE: University places for Scots set to be slashed under budget plans

“But the outcomes for our children and young people continue to be harmed by decisions taken by the UK Government – particularly in terms of social security cuts, which are impacting children and families the most.

“Independence puts the full powers to tackle child poverty in Scotland’s hands, and would allow us to build on existing policies.”

She added: “As we have already set out, we would enshrine economic, social and cultural rights – including the right to education – in the interim constitution, effective from day one of independence.

READ MORE: Robison reveals 1200 university places to be cut for Scots

“The Scottish Government would propose that our policy on free university tuition is enshrined in the permanent constitution of an independent Scotland, subject to the deliberations of the constitutional convention.

“Independence would put significant economic and legislative levers in Scotland’s hands and give future Scottish Governments a range of opportunities to do things differently on a range of key issues, like children’s rights, tackling child poverty, reserved childcare support schemes and parental leave.

“This paper sets out just some of the opportunities open to future independent Scottish Governments to build a successful and thriving Scotland.

“It shows the potential that can be unlocked for our children, young people and families – the best start in life in a fair and prosperous independent nation.”

The SNP scrapped the Labour/Lib Dem graduate endowment when they came to power in 2007 and made university tuition free for people who have lived in Scotland for three years prior to starting their course but it relies on money from the Scottish Government.

In January the deputy first minister and finance secretary Shona Robison revealed some 1200 fewer places would be available to Scottish students next year under cuts made in the Scottish government budget.

Ms Robison said the government could not afford to continue financing additional places which had been created during the pandemic to take account of a change in how pupils were being assessed at Higher level.

She told MSPs that no decision has yet been made on further reductions after the government announced a £28.5m reduction in university funding.

The cuts provoked concerns that more Scottish students would have to leave the country to study at university.

In an interview with the Herald in January, Conservative MSP Liz Smith, her party's finance spokeswoman, urged the government to consider bringing back a graduate endowment, a fee paid by graduates after completing their courses. She raised concerns that if Scottish students left the country to study elsewhere they may not return, hence depriving the economy of their skills and revenue from income tax.

Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, also said at the time that the future of some institutes will be at risk under the new deal budget.

Earlier this month First Minister Humza Yousaf  insisted that tax rises for higher earners from April will pay for free university tuition.

He underlined the “social contract” in Scotland that has created new tax bands, including one in the most recent budget for workers on salaries of between £75,000 and £125,000.

During a question and answer session at the London School of Economics, he said that the decision to increase taxes was “really tough” because this was a general election year and the SNP was poised to lose seats.

“But we did that because we wanted to make sure that everybody could benefit from free university education, from free childcare, from not [paying] a single penny for your prescription charges, for free bus travel for everybody who is aged under 22 or over 60 or if you’ve got a disability,” he said.

“To be able to target measures like a Scottish child payment, which by the latest modelling shows an estimated 100,000 children could be lifted out of poverty in Scotland. So, that’s a social contract which we try to maintain. It doesn’t mean we get everything right, by any stretch of the imagination.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said ministers should be addressing current issues in the education system.

 “It is appalling that hard-pressed Scots are still footing the bill for SNP propaganda papers that lack any credibility and which nobody reads," he said.

“The public want and expect SNP ministers to focus on Scotland’s real priorities – improving our ailing public services and growing the economy – rather than obsessing once again over breaking up the UK.

“The SNP should be fixing the mess they’ve made of Scotland’s education system now, rather than worrying about what it would be like in an independent Scotland.”