Northern Ireland

20% of NI students 'to exploit Irish passport loophole'

Graduation ceremony
UK students with Irish passports can qualify for free university tuition in Scotland

About 20% of students from Northern Ireland applying to study in Dundee intend to expolit a passport loophole to avoid fees, it has been reported.

Sixth form pupils in the UK who hold Irish passports can qualify for free university tuition in Scotland.

Dundee's daily paper, the Courier, has claimed that one in five NI applicants to Dundee University intend to apply under an Irish passport.

The Scottish Conservatives said the issue "has to be cleared up urgently".

University tuition fees are rising to a maximum of £9,000 per year across the UK from September, except at Scottish universities, where students who have lived in Scotland for a minimum of three years do not have to pay.

Discriminatory

Earlier this month, BBC Northern Ireland revealed the loophole, under which UK students from outside Scotland can avoid tuition fees.

It they apply under an Irish passport, they are counted as EU students - and EU law does not allow discrimination against those from other member states.

The loophole means that the Scottish govenment would have to pick up the bill for Irish passport holders' university tuition.

On Monday, The Courier newspaper claimed it had obtained figures which "show hundreds of Northern Irish students applying to Dundee University this year are claiming to be eligible for free tuition as they hold an Irish passport".

Responding to the figures, the Scottish Conservatives said the Scottish National Party (SNP) government could no longer claim that there was no evidence that the loophole would not be exploited.

Their education spokeswoman, Liz Smith MSP, decribed the policy as "discriminatory" and called on the Scottish Education Secretary, Mike Russell, to take action.

"Fees from students across the UK provide significant revenue, and the SNP has not been clear on how this shortfall can be made up," she said.

Farce

She has written Mr Russell, asking him to explain both the policy and the criteria for tuition fees to the Scottish parliament.

The Labour party has claimed the SNP government got the whole fee structure wrong.

The party said it was a mistake to put Northern Ireland students in the position of trying to find out if they could take advantage of the apparent EU loophole and avoid fees.

Labour MSP, Jenny Marra, said the situation is becoming a farce.

When contacted by the BBC, a spokesman for Dundee University would not comment on the story, other than to say it would report details of this year's applications to Universities Scotland in due course.

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