Fees in a free Scotland

July 31, 2014

Ferdinand von Prondzynski’s account of the legality of an independent Scotland charging tuition fees to students from the continuing UK (“Independent or not, a global attitude is critical to Scotland’s future”, News, 24 July) is misleading.

He writes that “without getting into the detail it appears that legal experts believe it may be possible to keep fees for rUK [rest of the UK] students under EU law”. The trouble is that the detail does not just fail to support this assertion but actually contradicts it.

All the opinions expressed publicly by legal experts and senior European Union officials are that it would be a breach of EU law for an independent Scotland to charge fees to students from other EU countries if Scottish students were exempt. They acknowledge that Scotland could apply for an exception to be made, but believe that it is highly unlikely that the EU would agree.

Even the legal opinion obtained by Universities Scotland says only that Scotland could make a case, not that it would be successful. Moreover, it specifically rules out the scheme proposed by the Scottish government, namely that the only EU students required to pay fees would be those from the continuing UK.

As for the legal advice “given to the Scottish government”, the first minister has been asked to disclose its source and content, and he has refused. It is difficult to believe that he would be so timid if the opinion supported his argument.

All the evidence we have now leads to the conclusion that an independent Scotland would be able to charge fees to UK students only if it applied the same fees to Scots. The alternative would be to exempt all EU students – but that would risk a flood of students from England. If only 5 per cent of English students chose to study in Scotland, it would reduce by half the number of places for Scottish students.

David Caldwell
Former director, Universities Scotland

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