The Scottish Government has announced it will legislate to close a loophole which allows students with dual EU nationality who have not lived in an EU country to claim EU fees status.
The legislation, to be enacted for the 2013-2014 academic year, will require applicant students to provide evidence that they have lived in an EU member state for at least three months to qualify for payment of tuition fees by the Scottish Government.
Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell said the legislation “will prevent the use of dual-nationality solely to benefit from free tuition“.
Liz Smith MSP, Scottish Conservative education spokeswoman, welcomed the decision, but questioned its effectiveness: “Today’s announcement is long overdue although it must always be questioned as to whether the three-month requirement … is a sufficient length of time to ensure this legal loophole is fully closed.”
Whilst students applying to Scottish Universities from the rest of the UK can be charged fees of up to £9,000, European law requires that nationals from other EU countries be treated the same as Scottish students and have their fees paid by the Scottish Government. Some universities have expressed concerns that Northern Irish students could use a provision in the Good Friday Agreement, a major milestone in the Northern Ireland peace process, to claim Irish citizenship and avoid paying fees.
While the decision has been welcomed by Professor Pete Downes, Convener of Universities Scotland, it has been questioned by some Northern Irish politicians who feel it undermines the Good Friday Agreement. Basil McCrea, an Ulster Unionist Party member of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly, criticised the decision, saying: “It is not up to the Scottish Parliament to decide on what nationality an individual is, it is up to that individual, protected in EU law.
“It is also a condition of the Good Friday Agreement that someone from Northern Ireland can class themselves as Irish if they desire. I expect this part of decision to be challenged also.”
It remains to be seen what effect the legislation will have on the number of Northern Irish students accepted to Scottish Universities, already down 19% for this academic year on the previous one.