There has been a 6% rise in the number of European Union students applying to Scotland’s universities this autumn.
In total, 17,316 EU students applied – up from 16,348 in 2011, figures from the admissions service, Ucas, show. EU law says EU students must be treated as locals, so – like Scottish students – they will not pay fees in Scotland.
But EU applications to English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities – where they will pay up to £9,000 a year – fell by 16.5%, 14% and 8% respectively. This means 6,065 fewer EU students applied for places at universities in England for 2012. In Wales, 543 fewer applied and in Northern Ireland, 177 fewer applied. From the autumn, fees will rise to up to £9,000 a year in England.
Fees are also rising up to this maximum level in other parts of the UK, although students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales who stay in their home nation to study will not be affected.
British-born Michael Kind, who is 17, has been living in Germany for the past few years, because of his parents’ work. As a result, he is now classed as an EU student, so would not have to pay fees if he went to university in Scotland. As a result, he is now classed as an EU student, so would not have to pay fees if he went to university in Scotland.
Students who come to Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, on the other hand, will be liable for fees of up to £9,000 a year from the autumn, although those coming from Wales will be subsidised by the Welsh government. Michael attends an international school in Berlin where he is studying for the International Baccalaureate.
He said he and his friends had done a lot of research into where to apply for university, in particular weighing up universities in the United States with those in the UK. “There are a lot of factors you have to consider,” he said. “We are not the wealthiest family so price is always going to play a role. Scotland is a viable option.”
He said he felt in an “awkward position” because he did not think “this loophole” was fair, but would do what was best for him. “I like the idea of equality. I don’t find it fair that Europeans can get in cheaper because they have lived in a different country,” he said.
It costs Scotland £75m a year to fund EU students, and that will rise if numbers go up. Ministers in Edinburgh are looking to see if they can change the rules. Alan Trench, an academic from Edinburgh University and author of a blog, Devolution Matters, said: “It’s an anomaly caused by the structure of devolution.
“Politically, it is clearly causing some concern in England and financially, it is expensive for the Scottish government. “The solution to the problem is far from clear.” The attraction of no fees is also luring English students who live near the Scottish border. Berwickshire High School in the Scottish borders has pupils who live in England and Scotland, so some will get a free university education and some will not.
Kate, 16, and her family moved six miles three years ago to ensure she was resident in Scotland and would avoid tuition fees there. “It just hits you sometimes, I think, ‘Gosh, I could have been landed with £36,000 debt if I’d done a four-year degree in England.’ Robyn, 17, has always been at school in Scotland, but lives in England, so will have to pay full fees at a Scottish university.
“I’ve never been in English education and Scottish education has always suited me, so I always thought I wouldn’t pay them [tuition fees], so when I found out it was quite difficult. “I’m part of a Scottish school, I’ve always been part of Scotland, but I’m considered different and it’s difficult to deal with.”
Grant, 17, said he was only considering study at a Scottish university, because his family was already struggling with his older sister’s fees in England. “I know that the English universities are very good and they’ve got very high standards, but I do feel, because of the financial situation, it’s just not an option for me.”
The head teacher, Rob Kelly, said the new fee structure for higher education had had a notable impact on students’ choices. “There’s been a clear reduction in the number of young people applying to go south of the border to English universities. “Normally we have between 15 to 20 young people choosing to look south. This year I think we have seven all together – and I think that’s a sign of things to come.”
The government in England says that students should not be put off applying to university when fees rise in the autumn – because no-one has to pay any fees upfront. The fees will be covered by student loans, which graduates will only have to begin paying back once they are earning more than £21,000 a year.