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Free university tuition in Scotland is here to stay, says Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf has rejected calls for the Scottish Government to consider reintroducing tuition fees for some wealthy students, saying there will be “no movement at all” on the issue.

The First Minister was speaking after the principal of the University of Edinburgh, Sir Peter Mathieson, called for the policy of universal free university tuition to be re-examined.

He said there should be “calm consideration” of charging some wealthier graduates for their education, arguing that the current system results in “talent and money leaving Scotland”.

Writing in the Herald newspaper, Sir Peter said a new fees-based system could raise money to improve universities, arguing that the current level of Government funding is “inadequate”.

But within hours of his column being published, Mr Yousaf rejected the idea. “I don’t agree,” he told reporters at an energy conference in Glasgow.

“I have a lot of time for the principal of Edinburgh University, but I believe that education, university education in particular, should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

“There will be no movement at all from the Scottish Government in relation to free tuition.”

The introduction of free university tuition has been a flagship commitment from the SNP, with legislation to scrap the graduate endowment introduced soon after the party came to power in 2007, and passed by Holyrood early in 2008.

The policy was championed by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her predecessor Alex Salmond, who had his claim that “the rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scotland’s students” inscribed on a stone as a monument when he stepped down from office.

Students from other parts of the UK pay annual fees of up to £9,250 to attend Scottish universities, while fees for foreign applicants can rise even higher.

Sir Peter’s comments come after think-tank Reform Scotland last year called on the Scottish Government to abandon the policy.

It argued that graduates should “pay the Government back for a proportion of their university fees when they earn enough money to do so”.

Sir Peter said such a move could potentially allow Government funding for universities to be improved – or for the cap on the number of Scottish students to be raised.

“Wealthy families in Scotland can currently pay for their offspring to go to university in England or abroad but not in Scotland, therefore talent and money are leaving Scotland.

“Changing any of this would be a political decision beyond my control, but it is worthy of calm consideration,” he wrote.

He also said the funding his university receives from the Scottish Government to cover the fees of Scottish students is “inadequate to pay the full costs of their education”.

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