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Scotland — no more shortcuts to free tuition, but wider access

The Scottish Government recently announced a change in the tuition fee regime, which is to be applied from the next academic year (2013/14) onwards and meant to close what is seen as a loophole in the system. Currently, Scottish students that study in Scotland benefit from free tuition, while domestic students in the rest of the United Kingdom (UK), i.e. in England, Northern Ireland and Wales do not. They have to pay rather high tuition fees, recently capped at GBP 9 000/year for undergraduate studies. Since, in accordance with the EU treaties, Scotland has to treat EU students in an equal fashion to Scottish students, EU students are exempted from tuition fees in Scotland. In turn, the students from the rest of the UK that want to study in Scotland are not, since Scottish students studying in other parts of the UK are not exempted from tuition fees either. In recent months there has been much speculation that UK students holding a second EU passport (particularly Irish) might try to use their other nationality to be able to access the Scottish education system for free. The rumour primarily revolved around students from Northern Ireland, who are automatically entitled to file for an Irish passport. Although such a rumour has not yet been proven right, the new government regulation stipulates that every university applicant with dual nationality that resides somewhere else in the UK must prove that he/she has resided in another EU member state for at least three months prior to his/her application, in order to be treated as a national of that particular EU country. The measure was welcomed by Scottish universities, although some stakeholders criticise it for its lack of fairness, as UK students are treated, they argue, discriminatorily compared to other EU students.

In parallel, the Government has issued a call to the most selective Scottish universities to recruit more students from lower social backgrounds, under an initiative worth a total of GBP 10 million (EUR 12.45 million) under the 2013/14 budget for universities. The call came in the form of a “letter of guidance” addressed to the Scottish Funding Council. While the details of this funding line are still to be announced, it is expected that about 500 students from poorer backgrounds will be supported through this initiative. Scotland had earlier announced plans to set binding targets for access to higher education that higher education institutions will have to meet. Recent research results show that students from socially deprived regions in Scotland have lower drop-out rates, and as a result higher completion rates than students from less disadvantaged backgrounds.

Scottish Government (tuition fees) The Scottish Funding Council