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Two-thirds of Scottish university applicants would put off going to university if tuition fees were introduced

2 July 2020

Almost two-thirds of university applicants living in Scotland (63%) said they would defer going to university in the autumn if tuition fees were introduced in Scotland, warns polling released today.

Around a quarter (26%) of those who provided further detail said simply that they would not be able to afford to go to university at all if fees were brought in.

UCU said the survey* - conducted for the union by research company Progressive - highlighted how tuition fees would lead to a further reduction in student numbers and income for universities with students from Scotland staying away at a time when the number of international students also looks set to plummet.

Research carried out for UCU found that around 9,500 fewer international students were expected to study in Scotland this autumn, compared to previous years.

UCU said as well as the financial argument, the reintroduction of fees could undo recent progress Scottish universities have made on encouraging students from socially and economically deprived backgrounds to consider university. 

UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: 'As well as it being morally wrong to charge students for tuition, we can also now say with confidence that it makes no economic sense. Bringing back tuition fees - either upfront or after graduation - would damage Scottish universities' finances.

'Universities across the UK are in crisis with forecasts of a catastrophic fall in the number of international students. We need to do everything we can to support universities in the coming months as they are integral to finding a vaccine for Covid-19 and in driving the economy forward nationally, and as anchor institutions in their local communities. 

'As well as the Scottish and UK governments stepping in to help, the key to keeping universities going is maintaining student numbers and not deterring potential applicants. This poll highlights how charging tuition fees for students in Scotland would lead to a further reduction in the number of students, rather than provide additional income for universities.'

The poll comes at a time when there have been suggestions that the Scottish government should return to charging students living in Scotland for their tuition costs. A report from Reform Scotland in May argued that the Covid-19 crisis and the forecast reduction in international students should mean the reintroduction of the graduate endowment scheme.

The scheme works by making university graduates pay an additional tax. An earlier version was abolished by the SNP Scottish Government in 2008. Recent news reports have also suggested that discussion around the reintroduction of charging students for tuition is taking place.


* Fieldwork was carried out online between 8 and 15 June 2020. 313 Scottish domiciled applicants applying to Scottish universities were asked to rate the impact the introduction of tuition fees would have on them deciding to go to university in Autumn 2020 or deferring entry.  63% said they would be less likely to go to university in 2020 if fees were introduced; 23% said it would make no difference; 3% said they would choose a university outside Scotland if they had to pay fees anyway; and 11% said they didn't know.


The same survey also asked the 313 Scottish domiciled university applicants to Scottish universities how them going to university was funded (i.e. having to pay tuition fees or not) would affect them deciding to go to university in Autumn 2020. The 95 respondents who commented split as follows:



Would not be able to/would not go to university if had to pay fees/cannot afford fees


Make no difference/money won't affect decision


Would still attend if had to pay fees


Would need to consider options if fees introduced


Depends on cost


There should be no fees/reduced fees/it is too expensive


Education should be free/accessible to all/fees unfair


I will definitely/am likely to defer


Issues with paying for accommodation as well as fees


Other comment on administration of fees


Determined to attend/important to me


Not having to pay makes me more likely to go


Issue with value for money regarding learning (i.e. fees should be reduced/don't want to pay full fees if course delivered online)


Issues with value for money regarding experience (would miss out on full student experience)




Don't know



Last updated: 2 July 2020