EU students flock to Scottish universities

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A record number of EU students have enrolled at Scotland’s universities, up 17 per cent last year new statistics revealed today as Education Secretary Michael Russell highlighted their cost to the taxpayer has risen almost fourfold since the start of the decade.

Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that between 2008-09 and 2009-10:

* The number of Scots starting full-time courses in 2009-10 increased by three per cent – from 38,740 to 40,045 year-on-year
* The number of EU students increased by 17 per cent, from 13,585 to 15,930. This is an increase of 94 per cent on 2000-01 when 8,195 EU students came to Scotland
* In contrast the number of EU students attending English institutions increased by only six per cent between 2008-09 and 2009-10
* Enrolments from full fee-paying non-EU students increased by five per cent – from 23,960 to 25,075
* The number of enrolments from the UK increased by one per cent to 179,905, with an overall increase of six per cent since 2005-06
* In total, there were 220,910 enrolments at Scottish HEIs, up three per cent – almost two-thirds of the increase was due to enrolments from overseas students

European law means that the Scottish Government is obliged to pay the fees of students living in non-UK EU countries – at a cost of more than £75 million a year in 2009-10 compared to £20 million in 2000-01 when 8,195 EU students came to Scotland.

As part of the ongoing debate over the future of higher education, Mr Russell is seeking to end an anomaly that sees students from across Europe receive free education.

The Education Secretary said:

“Scottish universities have always been cosmopolitan institutions – that is part of their attraction – but we cannot allow them to become a cheap option for students who have to pay to go to university in their home countries. That’s why I have made clear our intention to tackle the anomalous situation that forces the Scottish Government to pay on behalf of students from the rest of the EU who choose to study here.

“Having already written to EU Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, I intend to seek a meeting with her to discuss the issue when I visit Brussels next month. The number of EU students has almost doubled in recent years and the total cost has risen almost fourfold. The Scottish taxpayer is now facing a bill of £75 million a year. That is simply not tenable.

“These figures are all for the year before it became clear that England would triple the fees students are forced to pay. Building a Smarter Future – our green paper for a sustainable future for higher education in Scotland – makes clear, faced with fees in England increasing up to £9,000, our intention to raise fees for students from the rest of the UK. The need to take this action is underlined by today’s figures that show an increase of 12 per cent in the number of entrants from England – three years before the higher fees are introduced there.

“That said, I am pleased to see that not only has the number of Scots starting full-time courses increased, overall university enrolments are up three per cent year-on-year. These figures demonstrate once again the high international standing of Scottish higher education.

“However, it is crucial that we ensure our universities retain their international competitiveness and continue to attract students on the basis of their academic ability, not because they are perceived as being a cheap option.”