Fee loophole closed for Northern Irish students

Philip Simpson

The Scottish government have acted to close the loophole open for Northern Irish students who had the potential to qualify as a non-UK EU nationals, thus having tuition fees paid for.

Under European law, all non-UK EU students are entitled to the same funding as Scottish students. Starting from September 2013/14, EU students applying to Scottish universities will now have to prove they have lived in another EU country for at least three months to qualify for SAAS funding. Students from Northern Ireland will therefore now have to prove they have lived in the Republic of Ireland before starting their studies at Scottish universities.

Previously, Northern Irish citizens with dual citizenship from both British and Irish governments were able to qualify as non-UK EU students. Northern Irish students were also entitled to maintenance loans of up to £3,630 through Student Finance NI on top of tuition fees being paid for. Residents of Northern Ireland could only take advantage of their position with regards to fees if they had claimed Irish citizenship before they started their university studies in Scotland, but did not have to prove residency in Ireland. Northern Irish students who were already enrolled were not be able to register for SAAS tuition fee funding.

Aaron Johnston, a second year Medic at Glasgow University, was last semester advised by SAAS that claiming Irish citizenship would entitle him to free tuition for his second year. He said: “I had paid for an Irish passport as advised by SAAS, but was disappointed when it was revealed I did not qualify for free tuition as I had already started university as a British citizen, not as a dual Irish-British citizen.”

Due to the changes in legislation, this year was the last year the loophole will have been open to students from Northern Ireland. After initially playing down the loophole, the Scottish government decided to act after confusion over who did and did not qualify for free tuition. There was potential for any British student to qualify for SAAS through EU ancestry, not just students from Northern Ireland.

Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, welcomed the clarification for students applying under dual-citizenship. He said: “This will provide the guidance necessary for students from outside Scotland to make an informed choice when applying to come to University in Scotland.”

Mr Parker went on to criticise Westminster for the confusion caused by the raise in tuition fees and potential loopholes for dual-citizen students. He said: “Ultimately, the confusion which has been caused over this issue is the fault of the Westminster Government. Its catastrophic policy of tripling tuition fees for students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is proving to be disastrous for student applications. Westminster should reverse its tuition fee policy and follow the Scottish Government’s lead.”