Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland hoping to benefit from a tuition fee free university education in an independent Scotland may have to settle for degree grades lower than they might have achieved at university in the rest of the UK.
The analysis of degree grades of 179,549 graduates across the United Kingdom from 2009 to 2014 show that graduates from Scottish universities are 30.57 per cent less likely to get a first class degree. Whilst there is an extremely slight increase in likelihood that graduates from rUK universities will achieve a 2:1 compared to those from Scottish universities (0.20 per cent), Scottish graduates are 6.04 per cent less likely to get a 2:2 and are 52.13 per cent more likely to only achieve the lowest grades of a third or a pass without honours than rUK students.
Explaining the disparity in grades is difficult. Universities often face accusations of grade inflation through marking leniency, although they equally and legitimately respond that the quality of their teaching and the improved performance of their students justifies the rise in grades. Certainly graduate-jobs.com has seen a steady but marked improvement in the overall quality of all graduates registering with the site from across the UK over the last decade.
There are too many variables to rely on these figures in isolation as an indicator of the quality of the universities in Scotland versus the rest of the UK. Nor do they say that a degree at a Scottish university is harder or a degree in an rUK university is easier. Scotland has fine universities and very high quality graduates. However with so many graduates in the job market now, for ease of selection graduate employers are often first focusing on the grades graduates achieved rather than the universities they attended - which is often a secondary consideration except for Oxbridge students. Having a degree itself is just not enough, so data that indicates undergraduates' likelihood of achieving a particular grade at certain institutions is an important consideration for both prospective students and employers.
The Price Of A Free University Education In Independent Scotland
Under European law it is unlawful for Scotland to discriminate against students from other member states by charging them tuition fees, however it is not unlawful for a member state to discriminate internally. Hence currently English, Welsh and Northern Irish students undertaking a degree course in Scotland can be charged tuition fees by Scottish universities, but those from other European Union member states are not.
Priced to be comparable to the £9,000 per year typically charged to students at rUK universities, English, Welsh and Northern Irish students attending Scottish universities can be charged upto £36,000 for tuition before living expenses are taken into account - £9,000 more than they typically would in an rUK university since the degree courses are just three years long, compared to Scottish degrees' four years.
Whilst the pro-independence campaign believe the status quo can be maintained, legal experts say that at very least the situation will create an anomaly for rUK students which would be open to challenge in the courts.
Scotland's heritage in both innovation and academia, lively social life and costs of living are all typical attractions to prospective students. Undoubtedly many prospective university students in the rest of the UK are expecting that the free tuition available in Scotland to other EU students will be available to them in an independent Scotland that's part of the EU. Hence there will likely be even more interest in studying at Scottish universities. However, students should be aware that if they hope to avoid tuition fees in an independent Scotland, the price they may pay is in the degree grade they attain. The pressure to get a graduate career that delivers tangible financial results from time spent at university and the lower likelihood of achieving the top grades may temper the attraction of Scottish universities.
graduate-jobs.com analysed the undergraduate degree grades 179,549 graduates registered with the site between 2009 and 2014. 6,934 students had graduated from Scottish universities and 171,916 graduated from universities from the rest of the UK (rUK).