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Brexit and Indyref2 leaves the future of EU students in Scotland unclear

There is much dispute over the effect Brexit will have on Scottish universities. Scottish universities will be able to raise tuition fees for non-UK EU students, which could increase income, and provide more tuition-free places for Scottish students.

In a speech at the SNP conference in October 2016, the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney said tuitions fees would not be introduced for current students in Scottish education and those applying for entry to the 2017/18 academic year. Scottish Parliament may face a cost of up to £60 million as Brexit is planned to take place before current non-UK EU students have completed their degree courses.

Swinney has not guaranteed non-UK EU students will qualify for visas that enable them to stay for their entire degree. It remains unclear if this will change as Brexit negotiations progress and whether future EU students will have the option to study free of charge in Scotland.


Abolition of tuition fees for Scottish students, under EU regulation, was extended to non-UK EU students under European anti-discrimination laws. Students from the rest of the UK were exempt from this as they are within a single state; English, Welsh and Irish students pay £9000 to attend Scottish universities.

In order to provide tuition-free education to Scottish and EU students, the number of free places was capped. The Scottish Funding Council funds 125,000 places across Scottish universities.

Increasing numbers of European students are filling places at Scottish universities, enticed by free tuition at some of the world’s best institutions. The number of EU students in Scottish Higher Education has almost doubled since the 2006-7 academic year to 13,312 in 2014-15. This leaves fewer spaces for Scottish students and increasing competition between applicants.

Almost 20 per cent of Scottish students did not receive an offer from a Scottish university in 2014. Overall rates of offers to Scottish students were the lowest among nationalities applying with only 54 per cent of their applications being accepted.

In a speech early last week Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, outlined her proposal for a second referendum to be held on Scottish Independence before Brexit finalises, between 2018 and spring 2019. Westminster Parliament’s timeline for Brexit shows it due to being at the end of this month and complete in March 2019.

A day later Sturgeon issued a statement contradicting this decision, claiming a Scottish referendum may have to take place after March 2019. This was possibly in response to Theresa May’s public rejection of a referendum before Brexit talks finish.

Recent polls from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey (SSAS) show 72 per cent of 16-24-year-olds in favour of remaining part of the UK. In the 2014 referendum, the nationwide results were a 55:45 split in against independence, indicating a reluctance to leave the EU.

May claimed that Scotland will leave the EU “no matter what” in parliament late last week. As the Prime Minister and First Minister continue to discuss and debate Brexit and a second referendum, the future of Scottish and European students in the UK remains unclear.

Tags: brexit, european students, european union, Scotland, scottish independence, scottish referendum, scottish students, tuition fees

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