What would independence mean for education in Scotland?

Education is already fully devolved to Scotland.

Our system is performing well. Scotland is the best educated country in Europe, according to a recent ONS report.

Scottish pupils outperform the OECD average in reading and science, are similar to it in maths, and the latest results show that we have halted a period of relative international decline since 2000.

This improvement in performance has been achieved despite ongoing cuts imposed by Westminster. With independence we will avoid the punitive budget cuts already planned by the Conservative and Labour agreed austerity programme.

What will independence mean for skills and training in Scotland?

Independence offers Scotland an opportunity to better manage our resources, and to build a skilled workforce that is ready to meet demand.

At the moment, the financial benefits of successful employment initiatives by the Scottish Government (such as Modern Apprenticeships, higher and further education funding, and other training programmes) are enjoyed by Westminster, in the form of reduced welfare payments and increased taxation.

With independence we will be able to retain these benefits for Scotland and reinvest in our people.


Would Scottish University students still get free education?

Yes. The Scottish Parliament has full control of education policy. Access to higher education in Scotland is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

Historically the Scottish education system is very different from that of the other countries in the United Kingdom.

This is why we have been able to take a different path from England and Wales. For example, we have abolished tuition fees which are up to £9,000 annually.

Postgraduate study will also be supported with no change after independence.

The current Scottish Government is committed to maintaining free tuition. Independence would make it easier to keep this policy because Westminster cuts the budget every year, as they continue on their cost saving austerity programme.

Would students from outside Scotland pay tuition fees?

Yes. The current rules for charging non-Scottish based students tuition fees will continue.

Fees in the rest of the UK can be as high as £9,000/year which makes studying in Scotland very attractive to English & Welsh students. To ensure that Scottish students can get places at Scottish Universities and Colleges, the current policy of allowing Scottish Higher Education Institutions to set their own annual tuition fees for non-Scottish based students will continue.

Students from the rest of the UK will pay no more than they would if studying at home.

Students from other parts of the EU have the same right of access to education as Scottish based students. This means EU applicants are considered for entry on the same academic basis as home students and pay the same. This will remain the case with independence.

Update 6 September:

Many small independent countries across Europe – for example Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Malta, Norway, Sweden, Greece, and Slovenia – also provide free or very low cost tuition. In contrast, the regime in England and Wales which sees annual tuition fees of up to £9,000 makes them among the most expensive places in the world to study (according the OECD).

Because the UK government charges such comparitively high fees, the Scottish Government proposes that – just like at present – Universities here can continue to charge fees to students resident in other parts of the UK (regardless of their nationality) after independence. As the Scottish Goverment points out, it really would have “no option” but to do this, and also confirms that “if the Westminster Government change their policy and return to a higher education system where access to universtiy is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, we would also review our charging policy”.
Presently only 1.5% of students domiciled in the rest of the UK study in Scotland. If that total were to rise to 10% – and scoping of what might happen if Scotland didn’t charge fees for students from rUK suggests the number might go higher – then 80% of existing university places in Scotland would be filled by those students. And it’s easy to understand why – the massive fee differential between the two countries, the shared language, our relative size, the links between the qualifications systems, the quality of our University sector, and the high demand for places here. That would not be sustainable.
That’s why there is objective justification and need for this under EU law because. So lawyers acting for Universities Scotland have provided advice that Scotland could justify continuing to charge students from other parts of the UK, without reforming the free tuition provided to students from Scotland. That advice can be read on the Universities Scotland website.


Will the EU courts support the Scottish policy on non-Scots fees?

Each member state is free to adopt its own domestic policies, consistent with the objectives of the EU.

The Scottish Government has said:

“We believe that our fees policies contribute to student mobility across the wider EU while addressing the consequences of the unique situation of Scottish independence. In those circumstances, we believe that it will be possible to deliver our policy in a way that is compatible with EU requirements.”

Will other international (non-EU) students be attracted to study in an independent Scotland?

Scottish Universities are amongst the best in the world and highly attractive to overseas students. In January 2013, there were 28,500 international students from outwith the EU studying in Scotland.

This world beating quality will ensure an independent Scotland continues to attract the brightest and best students from around the world.

Independence will allow Scotland to develop its own immigration policies addressing the negative impact of changes to student visas implemented by the current Westminster Government. This will ensure that we benefit from the skills and enthusiasm of those highly educated young people who wish to study here, and make Scotland their home.

How will research be supported in an independent Scotland?

Academic research funding is currently sourced from Scotland, the UK, Europe and worldwide. This should not change after independence. The excellence and quality of the research capabilities are what drives investment in research – it is not restricted by geographic boundaries.

Scottish Universities are recognised internationally for their excellence. They are highly successful in winning competitive funding grants.

Based on this reputation, our Universities will continue to compete for substantial research funding, on the same competitive basis as they do currently.

The rest of the UK benefits from Scottish University’s high quality research. Our centres of excellence and shared infrastructure are used by researchers from across the UK including: five Medical Research Council research centres; five Isotope facilities; the All-Waters Combined Current and Wave Test Facility; and the Roslin Institute.

The chief executive of a UK-wide body responsible for funding research at institutions across the UK told MSPs he favoured a continuation of the current model regardless of whether Scotland becomes independent or not.

Professor Paul Boyle, of the Research Councils UK (RCUK), said that Scotland benefited from being part of the UK-wide research ­councils – but stressed the advantages were mutual.

Professor Boyle’s support for the continuation of the current model means negotiations to preserve it following independence are more likely to be successful.