The policy announced earlier this year that university students beginning their undergraduate courses in 2019 from EU countries outside of the UK would be eligible for free tuition was a bold statement. The intention was to show that even in the face of a possible 2019 Brexit, Scotland recognises the value of students from other countries and wants to continue to attract them into the country.
More in Line With the EU
Scotland is already a dramatically different place for undergrad students than England, with no tuition fees for bachelors degrees compared with the regulated fees in other parts of the UK. This means that Scotland is more in line with many other EU countries, where tuition is either free or heavily subsidised, meaning that student debt is not as big an economic issue as it is in England (and even in England, it is still much less of a problem than in the US, where there are very real fears that the three trillion dollar student debt balance will be the cause of the next economic crisis).
Extended into 2020
It was recently announced that the advantages of free tuition in Scotland for applicants to Scottish universities from other non-UK EU countries would be expanded from courses that begin in the 2019/2020 school year to include the following year. This means that even if the UK, and therefore Scotland, leave the EU on October 31st as the British government will be aiming for, there will be no new barriers to students who would like to come to Scotland to begin their degree courses in 2020. Things will remain as they currently are for people from other UK countries attending Scottish uni, however, with capped tuition fees, and for people from countries outside of the UK and the EU, with uncapped tuition fees.
The current policy for Scottish and non-UK EU students to have free tuition only extends to the first degree. This means that Scots and EU students alike who wish to study in Scotland for a masters degree or doctorate will not get this for free, although various arrangements are in place to help students who qualify with meeting the costs.
As a result of the fact that masters courses are subject to tuition costs, many students choose to take advantage of universities that offer education online for popular masters courses, such as an MBA, a masters in education or a masters in nursing. There are plenty of UK universities that provide courses that are 100% online for different postgraduate study paths, and so Scottish students can also look at options from England, Wales, and Northern Ireland when choosing who to do an online masters with.
It will be interesting to see whether these offerings for free tuition for EU students will be extended further to cover more years, and what the uptake for Scottish degree courses is from EU people if Britain should leave the EU in October.