Taxpayers have paid nearly £100 million giving students from other EU countries a ‘free’ university degree since Alex Salmond came to power, official figures have disclosed. This is from the Telegraph…
A record 11,870 youngsters from the Continent had their tuition fees paid by the public purse in the 2011/12 academic year compared with only 4,480 a decade previously.
The total paid out to EU students in fees and loans was nearly £22.4 million, an increase of £1.3 million compared to the previous year, while the amount paid to their Scottish peers fell over the same period.
This means the total taxpayer funding handed to European school leavers for ‘free degrees’ since Mr Salmond came to power in 2007 is £94.6 million, a sum that is increasing rapidly every year.
The figures also disclosed that more than half a billion pounds of public money was handed to Scottish students last year despite thousands of them living in households with an annual income of at least £50,000 per year.
They were published amid a raging political debate over the affordability of the range of ‘free’ benefits introduced since devolution, with Mr Salmond insisting that Scottish youngsters should receive ‘free’ degrees.
European anti-discrimination laws mean he must also extend this promise to students from other EU countries, although he is allowed to charge school leavers from south of the Border.
Mike Russell, the Education Minister, promised almost two years ago to examine ways of clawing back funding from EU students only but has proposed nothing since.
Liz Smith, Scottish Tory education spokesman, said the Scottish Government figures were further evidence the status quo is not sustainable when public spending and services are being cut.
“It begs the question yet again about how the SNP is going to find this kind of money to fund this promise from the taxpayer,” she said.
“Mr Russell has not been able to implement an EU charge because he has been told consistently that EU law will not allow him to do it.”
The figures disclose payments made by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS), which administers payments for higher education tuition fees and loans north of the Border.
They disclose that that the number of EU students at Scottish universities increased by 4.9 per cent over the same period, while the amount of taxpayers’ money used to cover their tuition fees increased 6.1 per cent.
The latter figure is higher because a larger proportion of the foreigners are sitting courses with larger fees, for example because they are postgraduates.