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Richard Lochhead MSP, Scotland’s higher education minister said the SNP led administration would save £19million a year. It comes after SNP MSP Alex Neil said the country could no longer afford the subsidy for “rich EU kids” at the “expense of our own kids.”
Currently, EU law states the government’s free tuition fee policy for Scots requires EU students to be treated the same.
But after the Brexit transition period, the Scottish Government will no longer be obliged to cover the cost for students from EU nations.
However, students already in university, or starting this autumn, will continue to be exempt from fees for the duration of their course.
Speaking in Holyrood this afternoon, Mr Lochhead said the money saved will go towards encouraging more Scottish students into university.
Overseas students attending university in Scotland currently have to pay fees ranging from £9,000 to more than £31,000 per year.
Figures show that more than 21,500 EU students studied at Scottish universities in the 2018/19 academic year, with 15,300 students receiving government funding while the cost of providing funded places to EU students was around £97m.
Mr Lochhead said in Holyrood this afternoon: “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 from the money it saves will also seek 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”.
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Although he argued the higher education sector is “performing wonderfully well”.
However, Jamie Greene MSP, Scottish Conservative education spokesman, warned universities face “deep, cutting financial problems” and an estimated “black hole of around half a billion pounds”.
Meanwhile, his Labour counterpart 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.
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“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.
Professor Nolan said it provided 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”.
However, she stressed that 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”.
Scottish Funding Council (SFC) data also showed Universities face a loss of around £72m due to COVID-19 in the 2020/21 academic year.
They are expected to suffer a collective operating deficit of between £384m and £651m.
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