Scottish independence: Tuition costs could go up

Students from the rest of the UK could pay sizable tuition fees in an independent EU-member Scotland, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said.

Students from the rest of the UK could pay sizable tuition fees in an independent EU-member Scotland, Scotland’s Deputy First Minister has said.

In a move that could best be described as ‘baiting’ Westminster, Scottish Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that an independent Scotland that was an EU member state, would still charge tuition fees to students from the remaining parts of the United Kingdom.

Big difference across Britain’s borders

Currently Scottish students enjoy free university tuition within Scotland, whilst residents in England, Northern Ireland and Wales can pay up to £9,000 per year – with varying amounts of assistance from their home government.

Under EU law, member states may not discriminate on grounds of nationality when it comes to fees. This means that whatever one country charges its own students must also be charged to other students from within the EU.

As a result, students from, say, the Republic of Ireland, studying in Scotland pay no tuition fees whatsoever. Yet any students coming from across the border in Northern Ireland can be charged due to a loophole which allows discrimination between nations within EU member states.

Scotland could be acting illegally

Thus, in the event of Scotland becoming independent and an EU member – both of which are, admittedly, quite some way off. Far beyond the life of the current Scottish government – Scotland would be acting illegally, as they would be a member state (Scotland) discriminating on grounds of nationality against the United Kingdom (of England, Wales and Northern Ireland).

Sturgeon has defended the move, which aims to prevent students from the rest of the UK coming to Scotland for free education and then leaving, adding that if the UK government were to change their position on fees, it would be likely that Scotland would too. In a BBC report she said,

“It’s about the fact that we have a set of circumstances flowing from geography and the cross border flows of students between Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the consequences for Scottish education of a policy decision taken at Westminster to charge its own students for access to university.”

Other solutions?

Well, this debate is entirely hypothetical. The suggestion that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland comes from the Scottish Government’s white paper on independence, and is merely an indication of the policy the SNP would follow in an independent Scotland (should it retain power).

However, their main opposition, Scottish Labour, in their 2011 manifesto said they wouldn’t support up-front fees, or a so-called ‘graduate tax’. If either party won the first election post-independence, it would appear that something would have to be done to stop an influx students from the UK coming to study for free. Something about a gesture of goodwill, perhaps?

That said, there’s also the in/out EU referendum on the cards in Westminster. When (or, even, if) it goes ahead, the result could potentially see the UK leave the EU – leaving Scotland to charge the remnants of the UK as they see fit.

In May, the BBC reported on how academics at the University of Edinburgh came up with a list of potential ideas to protect Scottish student places. 

Should Scotland be an independent country? Would it be wrong for other UK students to be charged more? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.