Now I don’t normally read the Daily Mail, but I found this on twitter and laughed at the cruel irony of it so I thought I’d share it with you.
Students from England and Wales would still be charged tuition fees of up to £9,000 a year by Scottish universities following independence – while EU youngsters would continue to study here for free.
The SNP is in favour of the extraordinary charging regime – despite fears it flouts EU law and would discriminate against the English and Welsh. The unfair plan was buried in the 670-page blueprint for independence launched by Alex Salmond yesterday, sparking claims that he had produced a ‘fantasy’ manifesto.
The Scottish First Minister was dogged by questions about how he will get the Westminster government, Brussels, Nato, Buckingham Palace and the BBC to agree to his ambitious plans.
He launched his historic 670-page blueprint covering all areas of life in an independent Scotland, which revealed he wants the UK to continue to bail-out Scotland’s banks, shoulder its debts and fund degrees for its students.
And it spelt out in bizarre detail that shows like Eastenders, Doctor Who and Strictly Come Dancing and kids’ channel Cbeebies would remain on air, in an attempt to counter fears from TV viewers that they would be cut off from the BBC. (I love how they mentioned Cbeebies in here. All of us uni students watch that right?)
But it also revealed that an independent Scotland would charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not other EU countries. It emerged earlier this year that, according to EU law, taxpayers would face a bill of at least £140 million a year if Scotland becomes independent – to pay for students from the rest of the UK (RUK) who would then be able to study here for free.
Under the current funding system, EU students are entitled to ‘free’ higher education in Scotland while English, Welsh and Northern Irish youngsters pay up to £9,000 a year.
The anomaly has caused controversy as critics say the rest of the UK (RUK) are being discriminated against.
But if the UK were broken up and Scotland retained its EU membership, then – according to EU law – RUK students would also be entitled to degrees for which they would not have to pay, as they would be regarded as foreign EU citizens.
The lost income could amount annually to at least £140 million, according to latest estimates. The independence blueprint published yesterday reveals the SNP plans to continue to provide ‘free’ degrees for native Scots – but only by keeping tuition fees for RUK students.
Critics say this policy runs against current EU law and is inherently unjust, because RUK youngsters would continue to be forced to pay to study here, while other EU youngsters would still be exempt from fees. University bosses, who have vowed to remain impartial in the independence debate, welcomed the SNP’s approach last night and claimed it reflected legal advice they had received earlier this year. But Mid Scotland and Fife Labour MSP Dr Richard Simpson said: ‘This would be an entirely discriminatory policy and I cannot see how it would possibly comply with EU law. If there is legal advice, we need to see it now. If it were possible to charge EU students coming to Scotland, why aren’t they doing it already? The answer is that, legally, they can’t.’
Earlier this year, Alex Salmond said: ‘I’m not worrying about having more students studying in Scotland, but we can maintain the current arrangements, which are apparently fair; that’s the advice we’ve got.’
At the time, critics accused Mr Salmond of an unaffordable policy ‘predicated on denial’ of basic facts.
The White Paper repeats the SNP’s claim that RUK students should be made to pay to study here. It states: ‘The Government believes that continuing to charge students from other parts of the UK is the best way to achieve this balance, recognising that there is a long history of substantial numbers of students from elsewhere in the UK coming to Scottish universities to take advantage of our high-quality education, our common language and the parallel system of educational qualifications that make Scotland an attractive place for them to study. These students would pay substantial fees if studying in their own countries. We believe that in an independent Scotland it will be possible for an objective justification for this charging regime to be established.’
Taxpayers are footing a bill of around £25 million a year to pay tuition fees for EU students in Scotland.
The number of EU students has risen in the last year but there are fewer Scots, according to recent official figures. The bill for students from elsewhere in Europe has roughly quadrupled from £6 million a decade ago – and is up from around £14.3 million in 2007.
The SNP has pledged to find ways of curbing the bill but EU legal obligations have so far blocked their attempts, rendering the commitment meaningless – and undermining the new plan to keep charging RUK students.
The latest row also comes amid growing concern that Scots are being frozen out of their own campuses as a result of a sharp rise in the number of fee-paying students. A spokesman for the Universities Scotland higher education umbrella body said: ‘It is important to universities that arrangements are in place which support the cross-border mobility of students in sustainable numbers. We welcome the Scottish Government’s view that arrangements could be developed to manage this, which builds on legal advice we received earlier this year. We will need to engage with the Scottish Government to ensure robust arrangements are put in place.’