Scottish fees plan ‘not legal’, says Willetts

Independence would also leave Scotland off international ‘top table’ for research

February 5, 2014

The Scottish government’s plan to charge English students tuition fees in the event of independence would “not be legal”, according to the universities and science minister.

David Willetts, speaking this morning to MPs from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, said it was “pretty clear” that European Union rules would not allow an independent Scotland to allow its own students to attend for free yet charge those south of the border.

“The view seems pretty clear that if Scotland were to be a separate state within the EU, it would not be legal, because there is a very clear framework within the EU that you can’t discriminate against members of other member states,” he said.

The Scottish National Party hopes to convince the EU that it would have a unique case to charge tuition fees to English, Welsh and Northern Irish students in the event of independence in order to prevent an overwhelming number of “fee refugees” heading to Scotland from England.

But Mr Willetts said that it would be “unprecedented” if Scotland were able to secure such an agreement from the EU, adding that this was the “view of the vast majority of legal experts”.

Mr Willetts was also questioned yesterday by MPs from the Scottish Affairs Committee on the impact of independence on higher education.

The UK currently has a broad science base, he said. But “if you’re a small country you have to specialise and then you have to take some very tough decisions about what to specialise in”, he warned.

Independencealso risked Scotland’s place at the “top table” when science ministers from around the world met and decided on international priorities for research.

“There are 8,10,12 seats at the table. There aren’t 25 to 30,” he said.

Currently, Scotland was represented by the UK minister, but as an independent country might instead be represented by the European Commission, which would be “rather less effective”, Mr Willetts claimed.

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

Laurel and Hardy sawing a plank of wood

Working with other academics can be tricky so follow some key rules, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford will host a homeopathy conference next month

Charity says Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford is ‘naive’ to hire out its premises for event

women leapfrog. Vintage

Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O’Gorman offer advice on climbing the career ladder

Woman pulling blind down over an eye
Liz Morrish reflects on why she chose to tackle the failings of the neoliberal academy from the outside
White cliffs of Dover

From Australia to Singapore, David Matthews and John Elmes weigh the pros and cons of likely destinations