Scotland politics

Scottish government moves to close EU tuition fees loophole

Graduation ceremony
Image caption Student and university leaders have welcomed the clarity the new legislation will bring

The Scottish government has taken steps to close a loophole that allows some students from outside Scotland to avoid tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year.

Students from Scotland and European Union countries pay no tuition fees at Scottish universities, while other UK students do have to pay.

Some students have avoided paying fees by receiving Irish passports while living in Northern Ireland.

From next year, students will need to prove they have lived in an EU state.

European law dictates that EU students must be treated the same as those in Scotland.

Everyone born in Northern Ireland is eligible for a Republic of Ireland passport under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

There has been an expectation that students from elsewhere in the UK may try to win exemption from Scottish fees by acquiring dual nationality.

Having a parent, and in some cases even a grandparent, from an EU country such as France and Germany opens up that possibility.

Under new legislation that will come into effect from 2013/14, dual nationality university applicants from the rest of the UK will be required to prove that they have previously exercised their right of EU residency to qualify as an EU student.

They will have to show evidence of having lived in another EU member state for at least three months before qualifying to have their tuition fees paid.

The Scottish government said the move was designed to standardise the process across all universities and insisted there was little evidence to suggest the loophole was being exploited.

Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "Since the very recent changes to tuition fees system there is little or no evidence of changes in the make-up of applicants.

"However, speculation over the opportunity for prospective students, resident in the rest of the UK, seeking another EU nationality to avoid paying fees has caused confusion.

"This legislation will require dual-national students to provide evidence that they have previously exercised their right of residence elsewhere and will prevent the use of dual-nationality solely to benefit from free tuition.

"We have today issued guidance to universities that will ensure a consistent approach across Scotland and provide clarity for students."

The move has been welcomed by Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland.

"This will provide the guidance necessary for students from outside Scotland to make an informed choice when applying to come to university in Scotland," he said.

"Recent statistics have shown that the number of applicants from the EU has not risen significantly.

"In addition, it was never clear whether applying as an EU student would actually have benefited the applicant, as the student might not have found a place."

Professor Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland, said the legislation would provide clarity for students.

"It is necessary to take action to close it for future years to avoid any confusion for students and parents alike," he said.

"Every university in Scotland is proud to welcome students from across the UK and further afield to study here, but what attracts them must continue to be the quality of the education we can offer."

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