Leading human rights lawyer, Phil Shiner, of Public Interest Lawyers has said that Scotland is breaking the law by charging students from North Ireland, England and Wales for their higher education while undergraduates from Scotland and other European countries do not have to pay any tuition fee.
At the moment, students from elsewhere in the UK have to pay between £1,820 and £2,895 a year. This could become up to £9,000 from 2012.
European Students Cannot Be Charged Anything
Due to European rules, students from European countries have to receive the same treatment as Scottish students, which means they cannot be charged anything.
Next year, when fees will rise up to £9,000, the 22,500 students from North Ireland, England and Wales will together pay £36,000 more than Scottish and EU students.
Shiner stated: “This is a vision of an elitist society dressed up in the language of the big society. The fees system in the UK is deeply discriminatory. This goes to the heart of everything I hold dear.”
Shiner says this inequality has been because ministers “misinterpreted the law”. According to him, the Scottish system is in conflict with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with the Equality Act.
Scottish Government Defends Itself
A spokeswoman of the Scottish government stated: “We are clear that the proposals set out [to allow Scottish universities to set fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students up to £9,000] are lawful.
“Tuition fee arrangements are based on ‘ordinary domicile’ not nationality. In an ideal world, no students would pay fees. Our main priority has to be to protect opportunities for Scottish students to study at Scottish institutions by maintaining free education north of the border.”
In reply, Shiner says: “The argument about domicile and nationality doesn’t hold water. If being Welsh, English, Irish or Scottish is not a matter of national origin then it makes a nonsense of the establishment of parliaments in each place.”
From 2012 onwards, only the tuition fees of overseas students who are not from Europe will increase, since there is no limit on the amount of fees for foreign non-European students. In general they have to pay £20,000 per year.