THE Scottish Conservatives have been accused of a “U-turn upon a U-turn” after an MSP came out in support of bringing back the graduate endowment.

Liz Smith, the Scottish Conservatives’ finance spokesperson, told The Herald the existing policy of free tuition for Scottish domiciled students was "not sustainable" and other options needed to be examined, adding that one option would be to return to the graduate endowment.

The policy – which saw students pay a £2000 fee after graduation - was ditched in 2007, with then-education secretary Fiona Hyslop saying it had “clearly failed”.

She claimed that in the three years it had been in operation, two-thirds of those due to pay the fee had not done so directly but just added it to their student loan.

The SNP have now accused the Tories of U-turning on a U-turn, given that Douglas Ross backed free tuition before the last Scottish Parliament elections after years of opposing it.

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Speaking to The Herald, Smith said: "I think education is a public good, it benefits everyone, so the state has a moral obligation to spend a lot of money in my view on education and that includes higher education.

"But there is also a benefit to the student doing a degree and I think we have to look at what we expect the private benefit to be as well as the public.

"And that should lead to a discussion about how you would review the model for higher education funding."

Since the SNP brought in free tuition, the number of Scottish domiciled first-time full-time degree entrants has gone up by 31% and the country has a record number of students from the poorest communities going to university.

Carol Monaghan, the SNP’s education spokesperson, branded the graduate endowment as “back door” tuition fees, insisting the Tories are showing they are at odds with Scots’ values.

She said: “When the Scottish Tories came out in support of free tuition just a few years ago, my SNP colleagues rightly called it the least convincing U-turn in modern political history. Unfortunately, they were right. 

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“Now they have U-turned on their U-turn and are, once again, calling for Scottish students to pay fees - this time via the back door. 

“Free tuition has seen the number of Scottish students soar and has led to a record number of students from our poorest communities getting the opportunity to go to university.

“With Liz Smith making clear the Tories plan to impose fees, and Labour’s U-turn on free tuition, it’s clear that only the SNP can be trusted to stand up for young people and protect free university tuition.

“By seeking to impose tuition fees and backing Brexit, which has robbed Scotland’s students of multiple opportunities, both the Tories and Labour have made clear their values are completely at odds with the values of people in Scotland.”

Under current policy, tuition is free for people who have lived in Scotland for three years prior to starting their course but it relies on money from the Scottish Government resulting in the number of places for Scots being capped.

Last year, First Minister Humza Yousaf rejected calls from the University of Edinburgh head Professor Peter Mathieson to give “calm consideration” to tuition fees.

He said at the time: “I have a lot of time for the principal of Edinburgh University, but I believe that education, university education in particular, should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.”