Scottish Referendum: What’s at Stake for Students?

Today, Scottish residents will go to the polling station and decide the future of Scotland. If you’ve turned on the TV or picked up a paper in the last fortnight, you’re probably aware that the vote is extremely likely to be marginal.

_64187547_voteDon’t be naive and think, as students, the decision won’t affect us. Scotland voting ‘Yes’ and leaving the 307 year Union will have a massive effect on a range of issues, and a big effect on education, education, education.

We are often told that the United Kingdom is one of the greatest Higher Education providers in the world, and hence attracts students from all over the world. At present, Scotland gets a disproportionate amount of Higher Education funding – receiving around 13% of  Research Council UK funding, while only making up about 8% of the population. Independence could severely cut this funding. As the RCUK has said serious talks would be needed if Scotland votes for independence. This means a likely increase in funding to the rest of the UK.

There’s funding, and then there’s the often discussed tuition fees. Since 1998, Scottish University have been free for Scots, yet at present students from the rest of the UK have to pay up to £9,000 a year for their Scottish Tuition. The ‘Yes’ campaign are keen to continue this – but it may be an illegal act to do so.  If Scotland rejoins the EU, which Alex Salmond, (leader of the Independence campaign) is keen to do it will not be allowed to discriminate against students from the rest of the EU. Hence, it will have to abolish fees for everyone – or, reintroduce fees for the Scottish.

Scottish universities are currently dominated by UK students, making up over 75%  of their students.


Universities are the third largest sector in Scotland, behind energy and financial services. Scottish universities employ 142,000 people and contribute £6.7 billion to the British Economy. Charging for all – or none, could make a significant difference on the funding, and completely change the economy of Scotland.

This week, the three best Universities in Scotland – University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow and St. Andrews – were all named in the UK top 15, and global top 100. If Scotland do abolish fees for the rest of the UK, this could lead to a massive drop in University places for Scottish Students, as Welsh, English and Northern Irish students descend on a free education in Scotland. Scotland claims 15% of the UK medical schools,  and 11% of it’s University staff. Free tuition would make University places such more competitive for Scots.

A survey conducted by Times Higher Education has shown that a narrow majority of Scottish academics are set to vote against independence tomorrow, and 55.5% believe that in an independent Scotland, Higher Education will be in a worse off.

If Scotland vote to leave the UK today a lot will change. Unless you’re studying a very long course, it’s likely the effects won’t come into place until after you graduate. However, the long-term outlook for students could be drastically different.


This post also appeared in Wessex Scene.


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