Last week, being a retired fellow, I went on a day trip to Peebles with friends, a couple I’ve known since I taught their son more than 30 years ago. Their boy has done very well for himself and now lives in London with his family. Their daughter has also had an excellent life and lives in Edinburgh with hers.
By a pleasing twist, both son and daughter have their own sons, now about 14 or 15, sports-mad, academically able, just wonderful really (you know how grandparents are…). At one point, Granny, a forthright and clever woman said: "You know, it’s really nice, because they both want to study at the University of Edinburgh, but of course, as things stand, the London one will have a chance of getting in, but the Edinburgh one won’t.”
And that, of course, is correct because for many subjects at Edinburgh – and St Andrews – the vast majority of Scottish applicants don’t have a chance of getting in. Granny can reasonably look forward to London boy coming to Edinburgh; Edinburgh boy may have to go to England to find the course he wants, even if he really would prefer to stay in his home city.
In 2014, Alex Salmond said: “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students.” Now, whatever we may think of the former First Minister, he certainly had chutzpah, going on to have these words carved onto an actual stone, which, having been rejected by the University of St Andrews, ended up at Heriot-Watt University, being eventually taken down by them in 2020. Free tuition fees! What a splendid thing! No young Scot, going off to university in Scotland, would ever again pay fees. Fine and dandy. Except, of course, for the consequences of the policy for some Scottish applicants.