gra-dult-hood n.

1. A stage in life between graduation and adulthood.
2. Gradulthood often involves jobs that don't fulfil a graduate's expectations.
3. A term coined during the recession.

What's the 'unique solution' for tuition fees in Scotland?

Neal Wallace (@nealjwallace), who previously wrote ‘Where do the gradults go?’ for the site, joins us again to write about tuition fees in Scotland:

The furore surrounding Lord Browne's report on tuition fees in England has died down somewhat. North of the border, however, things are just getting started.

Scottish higher education is at crisis point. With tuition fees in England rising to a possible (and staggering) £9,000-a-year, it's Scotland's turn to find a solution to the sector's projected funding gap. The problem is, no one is quite prepared to put their head above the parapet.

For months, First Minister Alex Salmond and his Education Secretary, Michael Russell, have reiterated that Scotland must find a 'unique solution' to the funding crisis that higher education faces. A 'unique solution' is perhaps the only thing they're yet to suggest – it's simply a means of prevaricating so they can find more time. It's ten years since tuition fees were abolished for home students in Scotland and it's looking more and more like it's no longer a sustainable option.

However, as is so often the case in politics, it's winning votes, rather than looking at the bigger picture, which has taken precedent. And now the question the parties are posing is not how Scotland should fund higher education, but how Scotland should fund higher education without tuition fees.

With parties jockeying for position at May's Scottish elections, various solutions have been mooted. Tavish Scott, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrat party, suggested cutting free bus travel for the over 60s. The thought of Scotland's roads been overrun by short-sighted geriatrics is at best concerning and, at worst, utterly terrifying. And is cutting benefits to those who really need it really the best option?

The debate has seen the Scottish Labour party perform a complete U-turn on policy. Having earlier suggested a graduate contribution – a solution, in my view, that is both viable and credible -, education spokesman Des McNulty has since ruled out any kind of payment for higher education, in line with the common voice: “There will be no price tag on education”, leader Iain Gray said.

As an English graduate from a Scottish university it's hard for me to sympathise with this view. Is free education really a right? I can't help but feel pangs of envy for my Scottish counterparts who have left university debt free when I find myself thousands of pounds in the red. If Scottish universities are to maintain their world-class status, it's surely not too much to ask people to pay for the pleasure of attending them.

If there's one thing that the Scottish protests have shown us, though, it's that, with an impending election, the popular voice will invariably prevail. It's cynical to say so, but a long term solution is being delayed in place of appeasing voters with a quick-fix. Labour's backtracking proved that.

The debate is causing an increasing divide between the main political parties and the heads of Scotland's most venerable institution. One of the most vociferous voices has been Anton Muscatelli, the Principal of Glasgow University

Muscatelli announced recently that Glasgow University would be cutting back its anthropology and modern languages departments as a way of plugging the gap, a decision met with a great deal of derision. Much has been made of the extortionate salaries received by higher education heads – Muscatelli earns almost a quarter of a million-a-year for his role. If economies are to be made, there's an obvious place to start

Michael Russell recently proposed that four-year courses could be completed in three, or even two, years. Again, this seems to be dodging the real issue somewhat – is a compromise on quality of education really the answer? Russell also suggested that academics at universities should be given the right to “elect” their principals, an idea that is imaginative rather than with any real substance.

As for what the solution will be, only time will tell. Few credible options have yet to be suggested. Instead, it is rhetoric and equivocation that, as is so often the case with politics, is winning out. One thing that is for certain, is that politicians must stop prevaricating and find a solution, and soon.'

Neal Wallace is an Edinburgh-based journalist who runs - An alternative culture press for Edinburgh (@samizdat_ed).

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