Students from outside the EU will have to pay to use the National Health Service from as early as next year.
The charges, which will amount to £150 per year of study, will be added to the cost of an international student visa. Those applying for a visa will have to pay the fee up front regardless of whether they later use the NHS or not.
Students already studying in the UK will not be affected by the changes, which come as part of a wider government effort to clamp down on ’health tourism’. After paying, international students will have the same level of NHS access as permanent residents.
The introduction of the so-called ‘health surcharge’ was disclosed following an investigation by Gair Ryhdd, the student newspaper at Cardiff University.
A spokesperson for the University of St Andrews said: “The welfare system is a matter for government. However, as Scotland’s most international university, it is vital that we have a policy environment that allows us to compete effectively in a global market.
“The University is concerned about the impact that a healthcare charge could have on our ability to attract the brightest and the best from around the globe. It remains unclear as to how burdensome international students actually are on the NHS and therefore whether there is any justification for such a charge.
“We will continue to do all we can to ensure St Andrews remains an attractive place to work and to study, and remain in dialogue with government and Universities Scotland over this issue.”
Omar Ali, the Students’ Representative Council member for international students, said: “Increasing the barriers for international students will only serve to harm the higher education sector in the long term.
“When we shut off access for some of the best and brightest minds in the world, we detract from the attractiveness of a British degree by putting off future world leaders — all in the name of a more balanced budget.”
The National Union of Students has also previously spoken out against introducing the charges. A statement published on the NUS website earlier this year said: “These changes will impact on international students more than any others as they make up 75 per cent of those subject to visa controls.
“Of those subject to visa controls they are already the most heavily regulated, monitored and pay the most into the UK economy for the duration of their stay.
“We believe that the introduction of healthcare charges is discriminatory, counter-intuitive and impractical… We think this gives a message that international students are not welcome in the UK and will mean more students will choose to study elsewhere.”
The changes to student visas also include legislation meaning landlords must check the immigration status of potential tenants, further complicating the renting process.