Legal advice on the EU and tuition fees in an independent Scotland

The debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament

The debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament

I’ve been banging on for a bit now about the Scottish Government’s belief that the EU would allow it to charge fees to students from the rest of the UK in the event of a Yes vot in September (I’m assuming that the independent monarchy of Scotland would be an EU member, mainly because I can think of no good reason why it would not be, and if the UK is still a member, I’m certain that it would be arguing strongly in support of Scotland’s membership).

The Government’s White Paper on independence guarantees free tuition for Scottish higher education students, while charging tuition fees to students from the rest of the UK. This proposal has been challenged by a number of European officials and former officials. Huw Lewis, the Welsh education minister, has predicted that he will have to join a queue of people wanting to sue the Scottish Government if it attempts to proceed with its plans.

The Scottish Government’s response has been to repeat the claim in the White Paper that it has been advised that it will have an ‘objective justification’ for exempting Scotland from EU law on equal access to higher education for all European citizens. It claims that this is consistent with the legal advice it has received (but which it will not publish), and that ‘This is a point made by Universities Scotland too’.

Universities Scotland commissioned its own legal advice, which is now in the public domain. It received eight pages of cautiously worded advice in April 2013. I’ll happily discuss it in greater detail if anyone is interested, but I imagine most people will be satisfied with the conclusion, which consists of the following two paragraphs:

As a matter of EU law it would appear that it may be possible to rely upon a residency requirement for access to preferential fees and grants regimes so long as that requirement is applied to all students regardless of their nationality and can be objectively justified.

It will be for the government seeking to introduce such a regime to establish, on evidence, that there is a legitimate aim which can be objectively justified which would allow them to derogate from the overriding principles of freedom of movement and non discrimination.

Decide for yourself whether this suggests any realistic prospect of the Scottish Government persuading the EU to over-ride its core principles of non-discrimination and free movement of labour.


Gender and university governance

Last week’s blog discussed the low proportion of women who sit on the governing bodies of Scotland’s universities. Over the weekend, I looked at governing boards in universities in London and Yorkshire. The good news is that things are better in these two regions. The bad news is that they aren’t all that much better.

Women governors form 30% of the total in London universities, and 34% in Yorkshire. At two universities – Leeds Met and Sheffield Hallam – there are more women governors than men. By comparison, women comprise 28% of board members in Scotland.

Six of the 26 London boards are chaired by women and three of the 11 Yorkshire boards. These women chairs include Estelle Morris at Goldsmiths and retired spook Dame Manningham-Buller at Imperial, while Jenny Abramski chairs the trustees of the University of London. Scotland has no women chairs.

I imagine that I don’t need to bang on about this. Clearly, governing bodies in London and Yorkshire are still largely male zones. They do show, though, that women are willing to join and chair governing boards, where they no doubt do as good a job as men. They also suggest that the position in Scotland is inexcusable.

This brings me neatly to a sort of postscript. If you remember, Universities Scotland claimed last week that ‘many universities have an equal gender balance amongst their co-opted members’. I emailed them last week to ask for clarification, without success. Perhaps they were referring to universities in Yorkshire.


Correction Universities Scotland contacted me this week to say that they had not received last week’s email. It turns out that I used an incorrect address. They have promised to get back to me once they have checked the information they relied on for their statement.