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A leading human rights lawyer is preparing a case to challenge the Scottish government over its policy on tuition fees.
Phil Shiner claims that Scotland’s current higher education policy, which pays for Scottish nationals while charging other UK students up to £2,895 per annum, is illegal.
“It is unlawful to charge fees to English students studying in Scotland,” he said at a recent press conference. Shiner also believes the policy breaches the European Convention of Human Rights on nationality grounds, in addition to a possible breach of Britain’s Equality Act.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government said: “We are clear that the proposals set out are lawful …the arrangements are based on ordinary domicile not on nationality…the priority is to protect opportunities for Scottish students to study at Scottish institutions by providing free education north of the border.” They were quick to clarify that in the midst of £9000 fees in English Universities from 2012 onwards, Scottish students studying in England will continue to receive support from the Scottish government through loans, bursaries and similar schemes.
Moreover the Scottish universities still intend to charge up to £9,000 a year for students from other parts of the UK from 2012. Some Government officials feel that they are doing more than the Coalition Government to encourage and support further education.
However, those studying in Scottish and Welsh institutions from parts of the EU other than the UK will be treated the same as “local” students; they will not have to pay the higher fees.
Yet this is a moot point for many students. One University College second-year said: “Why should mere geographical distance cause that kind of massive financial difference?”
A New College 2nd year said: “There are proportionately fewer institutions in Scotland, so there’s no way the Coalition government here would be able to subsidise English students fully where there are far more Universities … if the fees had been capped at 3,250 quid a year, I wouldn’t have a problem with the different systems, however with the rise in fees, the question of fairness compared to the Scottish system is put into question.”
One 3rd year at the University of Aberdeen said: “ I don’t feel any resentment whatsoever… a lot of the students in Scotland come from England anyway, so it isn’t brought up a lot by anyone, it’s understandable… I feel nobody should pay, but that won’t happen anytime soon.”
Shiner’s legal challenge has led Labour peer Lord Foulkes, a former Scottish MP and MSP, to put forward a bid in the House of Lords to make it illegal for Scottish universities to charge only English students full tuition fee costs. The bid is to be issued soon. Lord Foulkes argues that the bid should help towards settling an “injustice which unfairly discriminates against the English”.
Two stark solutions are similar funding from Westminster or blanket fees for all students in the UK. The latter view has been taken by 19-year old Jennifer Watts, the founder of campaign group Make Uni Fees Equal. She said: “it is only fair that either we all pay or no one pays.” Other campaign groups suspect devolution to be source of disparity In University fees.