By Christopher Chambers
- Christopher tells us his personal view on Scottish independence from a recent graduate’s perspective.
United by name, history and a fight for the future
Following the two televised Scottish independence debates, details emerged to suggest that jobs, oil, the NHS and currency were the top four areas of concern for the voting public in the run up to September's referendum. This is hardly a surprise; oil and currency in particular have been the cornerstones of the incessant arguments which have been taking place from the moment Alex Salmond won the right to pose the question 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' What is a surprise, however, is the shameful lack of coverage given to a topic of similar significance. University education has been left to linger, somewhat strangely. After all, the key politicians such as Alex Salmond and the industry experts, Sir Ian Wood a prime example, are all university graduates. These individuals know the importance of higher education for the future of Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. So why, you ask, are both the yes and no campaign largely ignoring the subject? The answer is simple. And extremely concerning. Education is being ignored because it is an area of deep uncertainty and one sure to leave students on both sides of the border in a perilous position should Scotland secede from the union.
The single most devastating consequence, short term at least, will be the end of free tuition for Scottish students. Put simply, the SNP has been brandishing its credit card all too often. It is implausible to believe that an independent Scotland could provide a tax cut whilst maintaining free prescriptions and hospital parking, never mind delivering a cut to airport duty, all the while still allocating free university places for its own students, as well as those from 28 EU member countries. And it will be students who suffer first. Figures suggest that the citizens most involved in the independence debate on social networking sites were in the 25-44 age range. Combine this fact with the reality that the courtesy of extending the vote to 16 year olds will be withdrawn come national election time and the truth is clear. A Scottish government is far less likely to be held accountable by 18-23 year olds (who make up the core of student numbers) than they will by the very citizens who make use of free prescriptions, for example. The student voice, as far as politicians are concerned, is a mere whisper. Appealing to us is not a priority.
The impact a yes vote would have on the rest of the U.K. is equally troubling. Many rUK students are angered by the current system which allows Scottish universities to charge fees to English students, despite the same rules not applying to students from the 27 other EU member states. And yet paying £9000 a year gives rUK students a subtle but powerful advantage. There is no limit on places for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who choose the study in Scotland. Similarly, places at rUK universities are less susceptible to EU competition because students from the continent know they can begin their adult life debt free by studying in Scotland. And in an era where university education must be accessible to anyone who is capable, the loss of this advantage would be disastrous for the next generation of students.
Ultimately, a yes vote would darken the cloud of uncertainty over university education in Great Britain. Stubbornness from politicians and campaigners has proven a handicap to clarity. The governments in Holyrood and Westminster have failed to cast light on the topic of education. In all the debates about economics and history, it is a dangerous reality that the institutions and citizens which are central to the future of the country have been left in the most precarious position.
Find out about studying in Scotland.