Northern Ireland students facing fees of £9,000 to study in Scotland
Students from Northern Ireland face paying fees of up to £9,000 each year to attend Scottish universities, it has been announced.
The Scottish government plans to introduce legislation that will bring fees for non-Scottish UK students into line with those charged by institutions across the rest of the country.
Scotland is one of the most popular destinations for students from Northern Ireland.
Education Secretary Michael Russell outlined the proposals in the Scottish Parliament as he set out plans to allow universities to set their own fees for other UK students from the academic year 2012/13.
The Government wants to bring in primary legislation capping the amount at a maximum of £9,000 from 2013/14.
Ministers have already secured an agreement with universities to voluntarily comply with the cap until such laws can be put in place.
Mr Russell said the decision could see fees range from £1,800 to £9,000 per year, with a possible average of £6,375, which was a figure used by Universities Scotland's technical working group during research on the subject.
Mr Russell said he expected the average fee in Scotland to be lower than that in England but opposition parties and the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland have questioned his claim, given that many Scottish degrees take four years, compared to three south of the border.
Mr Russell said: "This is not a measure I take any joy in having to implement.
"Scotland welcomes students from all over the world. We want them to continue to come here because of the quality of what we offer and the quality of where we offer it."
A final decision on student tuition fees in Northern Ireland must be made by September.
The current higher education budget here is premised upon fees being increased to £4,500 a year. If fees are not increased, the department faces a £40m funding shortfall a year by 2014/15.