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The White Paper on Scotland’s future exposes existing disagreements on the future for universities.

Today the Scottish government published its White Paper on the nation’s future. It notes that universities are one of the main drivers of the Scottish economy and contribute to the economic, social and cultural welfare of the nation. It identifies free access to undergraduate higher education for Scottish-domiciled students as a flagship policy and makes a clear commitment that, if Scotland votes for independence and the Scottish National Party remains in power, this policy would continue. It argues: “Free education for all those able to benefit is a core part of Scotland’s educational tradition and the values that underpin our education system.” What the White Paper does not discuss is the fact that, as in the rest of the UK, social inequality in access to higher education is a clear feature of the Scottish system.

Currently undergraduates from the rest of the UK pay annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 if they study in Scotland. The White Paper reiterates the Scottish government’s belief that, post-independence, it would be able to continue to charge students from other parts of the UK while students from the rest of the EU would continue to study free of charge, in line with the Bologna principle of promoting cross-border student mobility. It argues that if students from the rest of the UK were treated in the same way as students from other parts of the EU, there would be a huge financial incentive for them to study in Scotland and therefore a danger that Scottish students would be squeezed out. In addition, Scottish universities, already concerned about the funding gap between Scottish and English institutions, would lose revenue. But this is an area of ongoing debate. Experts in European law suggest that the EU would be unlikely to allow Scotland to charge fees to students from the rest of the UK when home students are studying free of charge.

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