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Citizenship loophole could mean free university tuition for Northern Ireland students

Some students from Northern Ireland are being told they will qualify for a free tuition at a Scottish university if they hold an Irish passport.

Scottish students have been granted free tuition and European Union citizens will benefit from the same measure, but not students from other UK countries.

Following recent controversial changes, it means Northern Ireland students, like those in England and Wales, face fees of up to £9,000 a year.

However, the dual nationality open to students in Northern Ireland has revealed a loophole with sixth formers applying for some courses in Scotland being told they can have free tuition, no matter where they live, as long as they hold an Irish passport.

Cathy Moore, chair of the Careers Teachers' Association, told the BBC: "The Scottish Parliament has said if you have an Irish passport and live in Northern Ireland and provide that, (Irish passport) you are eligible to have the fees paid."

Confusion still exists however, over how widely this measure applies and how many lucky students it will cater for.

Some students are likely to be disappointed though as it is understood that some Scottish universities have told students they will be classed as UK nationals and will therefore be forced to hand over the cash to pay fees.

Scottish Education Secretary Michael Russell has warned Northern Ireland students to be cautious, since individual universitities will have the ultimate decision.

"We're in this position because of a decision not made in Northern Ireland nor in Scotland but south of the border on hiking fees south of the border," he said.

"We decided in Scotland not to do that; to continue with the Scottish tradition of free education. Quite clearly we couldn't pay for everybody coming into us, so we've allowed the universities to set their own fee levels for those coming in.

"The purpose of the regulations is to guarantee Scottish students free access. It is not to find ways around for other people. Because of European law, people coming from other jurisdictions do get the same treatment as Scottish students but those in the rest of the UK don't,” he said.

Mr Russell said he feared some students could end up without a university place if they “applied in the wrong way or juggled it in the wrong way”.

"Nobody would want to end up with a legal dispute," he said.

Northern Ireland students can still look forward to financial assitance, because even if they are classed as EU students and avoid tuition fees, their UK citizenship will make them eligible for a student loan.

Belfast Telegraph


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