Free university education for EU students studying in Scotland will be scrapped after Brexit.
Holyrood’s higher education minister Richard Lochhead said the Government will end free education for EU citizens starting their studies next year, with the money saved going towards encouraging more Scottish students into university.
Students from EU countries – as remains the case for those from within Scotland – have been eligible for free tuition since fees were scrapped.
But the Scottish Government will no longer be obliged to cover the cost for students from EU nations after Brexit and it has decided to charge them after that point.
Tuition fees in Scotland for overseas students currently range from £9,000 to more than £31,000 per year.
Students already in university, or starting this autumn, will continue to be exempt from fees for the duration of their course.
In a statement to Parliament, Mr Lochhead said: “It’s with a heavy heart that we have taken a difficult decision to end free education for new EU students from the academic year 2021-2022 onwards, as a direct consequence of Brexit.”
Mr Lochhead said the Government will keep the money it saves – estimated to be up to £19 million a year – in the education sector to help more Scots go to university, and to create an “ambitious scholarship programme to ensure the ancient European nation of Scotland continues to attract significant numbers of European students to study here”.
Although Mr Lochhead argued the higher education sector is “performing wonderfully well”, with the most recent figures suggesting a 16% increase in EU citizens applying to study in Scotland, Scottish Conservative education spokesman Jamie Greene warned universities face “deep, cutting financial problems” and an estimated “black hole of around half a billion pounds”.
Scottish Labour education spokesman Iain Gray added: “It was welcome to hear [Mr Lochhead] pledge to keep the funding previously devoted to fees for EU students in the sector.
“However, the failure to provide any new money to secure the future of colleges and universities was very disappointing.
“While Ucas figures indicate that international student applications are up, it’s not good enough for the Scottish Government to cross their fingers and hope that they appear despite all the uncertainties around Covid-19 and a second wave of cases.
“Without a contingency plan for our universities, it leaves yet more uncertainty for the sector.”
Professor Andrea Nolan, convener of Universities Scotland, said it is “reassuring” the money saved will remain in the sector and provides an opportunity “to fully-fund the undergraduate education of Scottish students and shift the public funding of degree places on to solid ground for the first time in years”.
But she warned: “A move to international fee status for EU students from 2021 represents a big change to policy and funding at a challenging time for higher education so it will require very careful transition planning to avoid sharp shocks that could further destabilise certain degree programmes or institutions.
“We also need early certainty about how the change affects students from the Republic of Ireland.”