EU backs Scotland in row over fees for English students

AFP , Tuesday 6 Sep 2011

Scotland has been backed by the European Union over its decision regarding the University of Edinburgh's decision to charge students from the United Kingdom 41,000 euros for a university degree

The EU backed Scotland Tuesday in a bitter row over its system of free university education, which extends to other European Union students -- whereas those from England must pay thousands every year.

"There is no violation of EU law," Dennis Abbott, spokesman for European Union education commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, told AFP.

"The Scottish practice in relation to students from other parts of the UK is a matter of policy internal to the UK and outside the scope of EU law."

The row intensified on Monday when the University of Edinburgh, Scotland's capital, announced it will charge students from "rUK," the rest of the UK ie England, Wales and Northern Ireland, fees totaling 36,000 pounds (41,000 euros, $58,000) for a full, four-year university degree.

That is more even than Oxford or Cambridge, although in England non-masters degrees only take three years.

Birmingham, England-based lawyer Phil Shiner told the BBC this month that he was intending to mount a court challenge on the grounds that the Scottish government has contravened the European Convention on Human Rights.

The divergence has come about because Scotland and England, while partners in the British state, have always retained separate legal and educational systems throughout their strained, three-centuries-old union.

It was made possible by votes in the respective Scottish and British parliaments -- the former since May this year under the majority control of left-of-center nationalists bolstered this week by a respected poll that put a majority of Scots in favor of independence from Britain.

The first vote, in Edinburgh in February 2008, restored free education for Scottish-domiciled students; the second, in December 2010 in London, increased university tuition fees to a maximum of 9,000 pounds per academic year from September 2012.

The British government and Westminster parliament have no powers over Scotland in the sphere of education, as with justice and most other domestic policy areas.

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