Scottish government plan to charge UK students outside Scotland full tuition while providing a free education to Scotland-based students prompts accusations of inequality and discrimination.
“English students are forced into massive levels of debt before they have finished university, before they even have a job, for the privilege of having a university education,” she says. “Scottish students get their education for free. Students from the rest of the EU can go to university in Scotland for free, but students from the rest of the UK have to pay.
“This is clear discrimination against English, Welsh, and Northern Irish students and should not be allowed to continue,” she adds.
Public Interest Lawyers attorney Jim Duffy said their argument is based on the Equality Act and Scotland Act, which he said prevents discrimination and incompatibilities within the UK, such as holding Scotland-based students and English students to different tuition standards.
Duffy also believes that English students can use EU legislation that prevents discrimination against EU citizens in their argument.
"This is not about the relationship between states, it’s about citizens of those states, and we think the Scottish government’s stance is discriminatory,” he says.
Only two English students studying in Scotland have so far come forward, but Mr. Duffy said he hopes more will join once the issue gains publicity.
“I’m surprised more people haven’t come to us but we’ll see,” he adds. “Scottish universities have been charging other UK students for a while now but I think the tipping point has been the decision to allow universities to charge £9,000 fees from next year. It just doesn’t seem right that one student from across the border has to pay and the other gets it for free.”
Outside the scope of EU law?
Scottish government spokesman Barry McPherson said Scotland is confident the policy is legal because Scotland is technically a region within the EU, not a state, and EU legislation covering nations did not apply.
European laws say the Scottish Government cannot offer EU students a worse deal than it gives its own undergraduates. However, England is not an EU member on its own, but merely a region within the EU member of the UK. As such, EU laws may not apply.
Mr. McPherson cited a statement by Dennis Abbott, the spokesman for EU education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, expressing support for the Scottish government. “There is no violation of EU law,” Mr. Vassiliou said. “The Scottish practice in relation to students from other parts of the UK is a matter of policy internal to the UK and outside the scope of EU law.”
However, Iain McLean, a professor of politics at England's Nuffield College, Oxford, said students have a strong case against the policy. “The Scotland Act requires the Scottish government to be human rights compliant, and if it went to court I think they’d lose in this case, because they are treating one group of students differently to another."
“Most fair-minded Scots will know that it is unfair for a Lithuanian or Italian not to pay and a student from England, Wales, or Northern Ireland having to pay,” he added.