EC rules out protest of Scot fee abolition

May 12, 2000

The European Commission has rejected claims from a Conservative Member of the European Parliament that abolishing tuition fees in Scotland is illegal under European law.

Chris Heaton-Harris, East Midlands MEP and a member of the European Parliament's Education Committee, suggested that the arrangement discriminated against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland; could affect mobility under the Erasmus programme; and potentially broke competition laws.

The National Union of Students also handed in a petition to this effect when it lobbied the British parliament in March.

But Viviane Reding, European commissioner for education and culture, said European rules governing discrimination had not been broken, so long as students from other member states studying in Scotland were treated the same as Scottish nationals. Different arrangements for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students were a matter of national law, because they were all members of the same member state.

She added that the general rule under the Erasmus programme was that all participating students are exempted from enrolment fees, so the Scottish arrangements should make no difference.

Finally, she rejected complaints that abolishing tuition fees in Scotland broke competition rules. Mr Heaton-Harris had argued that it reduced the number of students applying to universities outside Scotland.

Ms Reding stated: "The commission feels that the activities of universities within the national education system should not be considered as commercial or financial activities and that the competition rules do not therefore apply."

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