Scottish Government considering an end to free tuition for EU students

Scotland's universities will take up to five years to recover from the financial crisis looming as a result of Coronavirus, MSPs have been told.

EU students currently enjoy free tuition

And the Scottish Government may end the "free" places provided to EU students as a way to free up extra cash, Universities minister Richard Lochhead has said.

He called on the UK Government to answer an "SOS" plea from the sector to make good on Boris Johnson's pledge to make the country a "scientific superpower."

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Scottish universities are internationally-renowned, but face a massive drop in income as travel restrictions mean many international students will stay away next year, along with the loss of vital research funding.

Richard Lochhead says universities have issued an SOS

It is estimated that universities could lose anywhere between £380-£650 million in 2020/21, Mr Lochhead told Holyrood’s education committee today.

"These are massive challenges facing the sector not just loss of students but research as well,” he said.

"So it could be three, four, five years to recover from this."

Students from EU nations currently receive free tuition in Scotland because EU rules prevented them being treated differently from Scottish students. Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland were charged fees as they are not from another EU state, but regarded as internal UK students.

The UK’s departure form the EU means these rules no longer apply, but the Scottish Government has pledged to continue funding EU students in 2020/21 in order to maintain student population numbers in Scotland. But Mr Lochhead admitted today that it may end the following year.

"We've not taken a decision yet as to whether to fund for the year 21/22 EU fees," he said.

"As you know in Scotland we want to be seen as an outward-looking country, part of Europe and want the European experience on our campuses which benefits our own students as well as our ties with other countries.

"But clearly we have postponed taking a decision on that while we are looking at what the impact of COVID-19 is in the round."

He added: "That is an option. We could take a decision that the £97 million it is estimated to cost us in terms of funding EU students, part of that or all of that, whatever to be decided, could be made available for other purposes in further and higher education."

The minister also called for "considerable fiscal intervention" from the UK Government to help Scotland’s universities.

"The sector has issued an SOS," he added.

"If assistance from the UK Government is not forthcoming soon then the very sectors that we will rely on to get us through this pandemic and to support the country's recovery will be severely weakened and diminished.

"And I'm afraid that the Prime Minister's recent promise that the UK will become a science superpower will simply disappear into the ether like a puff of smoke unless assistance is more forthcoming."

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