Free university tuition for EU students in Scotland to be axed

Students from other EU states will no longer be allowed to study in Scotland free of charge, after it was announced that the practice is to end next year.

Richard Lochhead unveiled the change
Richard Lochhead unveiled the change

The change was unveiled by Universities minister Richard Lochhead with a “heavy heart” in a statement to MSPs. It will come into effect in the 2021/22 academic year. University chiefs say the cash saved should now be used to fund more undergraduate courses for Scottish students.the Scottish Government spends around £20 million per year to cover the fees for EU students, who are entitled to free tuition in Scotland.But Mr Lochhead said: “Our EU law obligations cease at the end of the transition period in a few months, and continuing with this arrangement for 2021/22 would significantly increase the risk of any legal challenge.“It is therefore with a heavy heart that we have taken the difficult decision to end free education for new EU students from the academic year 2021/2022 onwards as a consequence of Brexit.”Scotland was forced to provide free tuition for all European students under EU law, but the UK’s departure form the EU means this is no longer the case.It means that EU students will now be treated the same as all international students who are forced to pay thousands of pounds in fees every year depending on the course they study.Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said: “This decision does offer Scotland an important opportunity to fully-fund the undergraduate education of Scottish students and shift the public funding of degree places onto solid ground for the first time in years. The pandemic has demonstrated how much that is needed.“It is reassuring that there is a commitment that this resource won’t leave the university sector. That is vital at such a financially precarious time for universities.“A move to international fee status for EU students from 2021 represents a big change to policy and funding at a challenging time for higher education so it will require very careful transition planning to avoid sharp, shocks that could further destabilise certain degree programmes or institutions. We also need early certainty about how the change affects students from the Republic of Ireland.”More than 20,000 EU students studied at Scottish universities in 2018/19, with just over 15,000 full-time students receiving funding in the same year.The policy has always been controversial. EU law meant that Scotland could not discriminate against another European state, meaning that German, French and Latvian students could all study in Scotland for free. But English, Welsh and Northern Irish students were charged fees - because they were not from another EU state and classed as “internal” students.Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “This is a welcome move, and some would argue long overdue, which will provide a much-needed cash boost for Scotland’s universities.“The key is that we use this policy reversal to improve the fortune of Scottish students.“Under the SNP, Scottish students have been repeatedly overlooked in order to fund the free tuition of European students.”The change will only apply to new students, starting in 2021. There is no change for new entrants this autumn nor is there any change for anyone already studying for their degree until they have graduated.”

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