Scotland university fee plan riles the English
A Scottish government plan to charge UK students outside Scotland full tuition while providing a free education to Scotland-based students prompts accusations of inequality and discrimination.
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While free health prescriptions and generous at-home care provisions for the elderly in Scotland previously highlighted the differences between Scotland and England, prompting accusations that London subsidizes Edinburgh’s vote-catching policies, it is university tuition discrepancies that have brought the issue to the fore.
Beginning next year, UK universities, including those in Scotland, will be able to charge as much as £9,000 (roughly $14,000) for tuition. However, under its devolution powers, Scotland has opted to continue offering a free education to Scotland residents who have lived there at least three years and students from the European Union, while charging English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students the full cost.
The Scottish government said the fees decision is largely a defensive strategy to prevent large numbers of English students from crossing the border and enjoying cheaper courses subsidized by the Scottish government, now that education elsewhere in the UK is about to become so costly. Nearly 23,000 English students study in Scottish universities every year.
While education departments in Wales and Northern Ireland have offered financial assistance for their students in light of the tuition increases, English scholars will bear the brunt of fee increases on their own.
“Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities,” Education Secretary Michael Russell said in a statement. “However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities. We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option. We also must protect places for Scottish students."
Scotland receives a block of money every year from Westminster, the seat of the UK government, which it can spend as it wishes. Scotland has opted to use a chunk of this money to subsidize university education.
Students take action
Some English university students say Scotland's decision is unfair and have asked lawyers whether there are grounds for legal action.
Jennifer Watts, a student at Manchester University, launched a campaign called Make Uni Fees Equal. Although she is studying in England, she has called on English students in Scotland to contact law firm Public Interest Lawyers and join a class action law suit against Scottish government ministers and possibly the universities themselves.