The Scottish government’s plan to charge English students tuition fees in the event of independence would have no precedent in the European Union, according to the European Commissioner for education.
Responding to a question from Scottish Labour MEP David Martin, Androulla Vassiliou said that treating non-Scottish students differently could be considered “a covert form of discrimination on grounds of nationality”, it has been reported.
But she did leave open the possibility of an independent Scotland being allowed to charge students from the rest of the UK – if the country could justify the decision to the EU.
The Scottish National Party’s position is that after independence, the country would be uniquely vulnerable to thousands of English students heading north of the border to take advantage of free higher education – and squeezing Scots out of the country’s universities – and so imposing tuition fees would be essential.
But the pro-union Better Together campaign said that her comments left the SNP’s tuition fee plans “dead in the water”.
Responding to Ms Vassiliou’s comments, Mr Martin said: “There is no viable reason why an independent Scotland would be able to charge students from certain countries fees, when other European member states cannot do this.
“Were Scotland to become independent, one condition of EU membership is to respect the rules of the single market, including not discriminating amongst EU citizens for university fees,” he added.