Universities fear influx of RUK students if independence declared

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Photo: Sammi McKee

Universities Scotland has spoken out about the problems that universities may face if Scotland votes ‘yes’ in the independence referendum. They have called on the Scottish government to give “legally-defensible certainty” that universities could cope with an influx of students from the rest of the UK coming to Scotland due to free tuition fees.

Currently, Scottish students who choose to study in Scotland do not pay tuition fees and their places are funded by the Scottish government. Due to EU law, students from the EU are also exempt from paying fees. However, those from England, Northern Ireland and Wales (RUK) pay up to £9,000 to study here. If Scotland becomes independent, RUK students would be classed as EU citizens and would therefore be entitled to free tuition.

Universities Scotland, which represents university principals, said: “Universities Scotland believes it is essential that a regime is in place to ensure sustainable management of cross-border flow on a stable and predictable basis. This is important as part of any constitutional outcome of the referendum, whether this is independence or further post-referendum development of the devolution settlement.”

An influx of RUK students could place a strain on the number of places available for Scottish students. Earlier this week, the Scottish government released figures which show that at present, around two per cent of English students move to Scotland for university, leaving the majority of funded places for Scottish students. If this rose to 10 per cent of English students choosing to study at a Scottish university, they would displace the majority of Scottish students.

Universities Scotland said that the fee differential between England and Scotland could “inevitably lead many more English students in particular to make the economically rational choice to study in Scotland”. The body warned that this would lead to a “significant displacement” of Scots who would normally study in their home country.

“If there is a vote for independence, we believe it is essential that prior to independence day the Scottish government is able to give institutions robust legally-defensible certainty that a regime will be in place which enables a sustainable level of cross-border flow.”

The University of St Andrews, when asked to comment, said that Universities Scotland spoke on behalf of the sector.

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