The claim has come from the pro-union Better Together campaign in a report attacking the credibility of plans for Scottish higher education post-independence.
Excelling Together: The future of Scotland’s universities, written by academics who support the pro-union campaign, also questions why Scottish universities would be allowed to continue to draw access the UK’s research council funding.
Last November, the Scottish government published its blueprint for independence, which insisted that Scotland would be allowed by European Union law to charge tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK.
But the Better Together report argues this approach would run into “significant problems” legally.
“If Scotland leaves the UK, and joins the EU as a separate state, the rest of the UK will become like any other European Union country. As a result, Scotland will be legally obliged to provide university education to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” it continues.
Currently, because Scottish domiciled students are not charged any tuition fees, EU students have to be treated the same, and so can also attend for free.
The report quotes Paul Beaumont, professor of European Union and private international law at the University of Aberdeen, as saying: “It is hard to see the Court of Justice of the EU accepting the Scottish Government’s arguments as to how this overt discrimination against students from the UK can be justified.
“There is therefore a substantial hole in the Scottish Government’s plans for funding higher education in Scotland.”
Another crucial issue after independence would be research income. At the moment, Scottish universities win more funding from UK-wide research bodies than they would if it was allocated according to population.
The Scottish government has argued that after independence, it would be “clearly in the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK to maintain a common research area including shared research councils, access to facilities and peer review”.
But the Better Together report says that it would be “difficult to imagine a situation where the rest of the UK would continue to allow a net outflow of scarce research funding to what would then be a foreign country”.
“In any case it would become increasingly difficult to operate an effective single system over time” as regulations and legal frameworks diverged, it adds.