English students at Edinburgh University may be charged more

By Sarah Morrison

Human rights lawyers believe the University's decision to charge only English, Welsh and Northern Irish students is discriminatory. Photo / Thinkstock
Human rights lawyers believe the University's decision to charge only English, Welsh and Northern Irish students is discriminatory. Photo / Thinkstock

The University of Edinburgh's governing body will meet tomorrow to decide the level of fees it will charge some of the students who wish to study there.

Its decision is expected to leave prospective students such as Johnny Whiting facing some of the highest charges in Europe.

For Johnny, 17, from Shoresdean, near Berwick-upon-Tweed, the change will be particularly painful. By the time he graduates he will face debts of almost £40,000 ($76,600), while most studying alongside him will incur significantly less debt or none at all.

The reason is simple. He lives in England. Whiting, whose home is 3km from the border and only 100km from the university, is one of 23,000 English students who had hoped that by travelling north they would get educated for considerably less cost than if they applied to an English university.

Currently he would face tuition fees of £2895 a year at Edinburgh, but this could increase to £9000 depending on the decision. These charges will not apply to students from other European Union nations. For Whiting, the fact that most of his schoolmates can study for free seems deeply unfair.

"Essentially Berwick feels like Scotland and I feel Scottish," he said. "It is so annoying that living a few miles from the border makes such a humungous difference. I feel quite cheated because these fee changes are making me reconsider my university choice and therefore my career."

Legal experts will be closely watching the decision in Edinburgh.

Human rights lawyers are preparing a legal case against the Scottish Government, believing its decision to charge only English, Welsh and Northern Irish students to be discriminatory and a breach of human rights law.

Daniel Carey, a solicitor with Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers who are to seek a judicial review of the Scottish Executive's policy, believes Scottish ministers have misinterpreted the law. "Both domestic equalities and human rights legislation as well as EU law prohibit discrimination on the grounds of nationality. English students should be treated the same as Scottish and EU students in Scotland," he said.

The Scottish Government insists the fees are lawful and based on domicile rather than nationality.

Michael Russell, Scotland's Education Secretary, defended the charges, insisting they are to protect places for Scottish students and ensure that Scottish higher education institutions are not seen as a cheap option.

The Welsh Assembly is to subsidise Welsh students, ensuring they pay no more than £3000 a year wherever they study. The Northern Ireland administration is expected to offer a higher student loan to those studying outside the province.

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