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Scottish independence to spark courtroom battles

Posted by Tom Walker in

With the September 18th Scottish independence referendum edging ever closer, key questions surrounding the impact on education policy remain unresolved, resulting in uncertainty around a broad range of education issues, from child care to higher education. The face of education north and south of the border has historically been different, with those differences widening further following the decentralisation of government that occurred in 1999. However, full independence would not only remove the last few ties between English and Scottish education policy, but it would also likely spark intense legal wrangling for many years.

A key issue of contention surrounds one of the Scottish government's flagship education policies: free higher education for Scottish students studying at Scottish higher education institutions. Currently, a quirk in EU law permits governments to implement discriminatory policies - such as the provision of free higher education to Scottish, but not English, Irish or Welsh citizens - within its own borders. However, EU law does prohibit the application of these policies internationally.

Currently, Scottish parliament takes advantage of this quirk to provide Scottish students studying in Scotland with tuition-free higher education - a subsidy it does not extend to students from the rest of the UK. However, if Scotland were to gain independence, pro-union supporters point out that the EU legislation prohibiting descrimination at the international level would obligate the Scottish government to offer equal access to celtic higher education institutions. This would result in either the Scottish government abandoning its flagship policy or alternatively, being forced to subsidise all european students studying in Scotland - a move that would dramatically inflate Scottish education spending.

Whilst pro-independence supporters rebuff this claim, what is clear is that, with stakes as high as they are, independence would certainly result in years of courtroom battles over the interpretation of this EU law.

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