Another major conundrum for the Scottish government in the event of independence would be how to prevent English students flooding north to take advantage of the country’s tuition fee-free universities and squeezing out their Scottish peers.
Currently, students from the rest of the UK can be charged up to £9,000 a year while Scots go for free because European Union rules allow different treatment of citizens within (but not between) member states.
But this would probably be illegal if Scotland and the UK became separate EU member states, although with legal opinion divided over whether Scotland would automatically become an EU member - and with a referendum promised on the UK’s continued membership - such a situation is far from inevitable.
Alan Trench, honorary senior research fellow at University College London’s Constitution Unit, said that it could be possible for Scotland to introduce a “non-residence tuition fee” to deter English students.
But according to Sheila Riddell, professor of inclusion and diversity at the University of Edinburgh, the EU “wouldn’t be happy” unless such a fee were set at a “small administrative level”.
Another option would be to adapt the “Welsh approach”, said David Bell, professor of economics at the University of Stirling.
Under this model, Scottish universities would charge all students tuition fees, but Scots would be reimbursed by the Holyrood government.
Such a policy could be open to challenge in the EU courts, he added, but has shown no sign of legally unravelling in Wales thus far.
Independence could also allow Scotland to scrap the “inhibiting” rules on international student visas brought in by the coalition, said David Raffe, professor of sociology of education at Edinburgh.
“There would be a desire in an independent Scotland for a more relaxed immigration policy” to boost university income and inject fresh blood into the country’s ageing population, he said.
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