Scottish fee gap

September 07, 2011, 12:40 AM GMT+0

The majority of Brits would support a change in the law that would force Scottish universities to charge the same tuition fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish applicants as for those from the EU, our poll has found.

Currently, Scottish universities are proposing to charge students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales fees of up to £9000 to attend Scottish universities (in line with the rise in fees for all other universities in the UK) whilst maintaining free higher education in Scotland for Scottish and EU students. Scottish feeling on whether Scottish universities should be forced to allow applicants from the rest of the UK to attend for free is split.

  • 77% of British people would support a change in the law that would force Scottish universities to treat students from all parts of the UK and the EU in the same way
  • This rises to 80% among English people only

Scottish feeling on a change to the law is split.

  • 45% of Scottish people would support a change in the law to force Scotland to treat students from other parts in the UK in the same way as Scottish and EU students
  • 41% would oppose

Our poll also asked respondents what they thought about the prospect of English universities following Scotland’s lead and charging different amounts for applicants from different parts of the UK ‒ and most, including Scots, disagreed with the idea.

  • 80% thought that English universities should have to charge the same fees for all UK applicants
  • Just 11% think that English universities should be allowed to charge different fees
  • With less support, although still a majority feeling, 66% of Scots believe that the same fees should be charged throughout the UK
  • Only 20% of Scots support varying fees across the UK for English universities

The results come amid on-going opposition to Scottish universities’ plans to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students up to £9,000 per year in fees, while allowing Scottish and EU study to study for free. The issue has been particularly pertinent of late following record-breaking A-level results, and news of university places becoming ever more competitive as students rush to apply before next year’s £9,000 threshold.

Ministers ‘misinterpreting law’

Under EU rules, students coming to Scotland from other European countries have to be treated in the same way as Scottish students, but leading human rights lawyer Phil Shiner argues that the Scottish fees system contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights and could also be in breach of Britain's Equality Act. He believes that Scottish ministers have ‘misinterpreted the law’.

However, Mike Russell, the Scottish education secretary, defends the fees, pointing out that for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students, attending university in Scotland ‘will not cost more than [university] does in their home nation’, and highlights that a number of bursaries and other sources of financial help are available to all students.

However, with British opinion running high, the issue of fees looks to remain contentious.