This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
Who determines eligibility?
Universities and higher education institutions in Scotland allocate their students a fee status for the purpose of charging tuition fees. There are three levels of fee status:
- a ‘home’ fee for students who live in Scotland.
- a ‘rest of UK’ (RUK) fee for students who live elsewhere in the UK or Ireland.
- an ‘overseas’ fee for all other students.
Undergraduate home fees are capped by the Scottish Government at £1,820 for the 2022/23 academic year. The RUK fee is currently capped at £9,250. Overseas fees are set by institutions and can be much higher depending on the course and institution.
To receive publicly funded student support, including free tuition, loans, bursaries, and grants, students must generally also be allocated home status by Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS).
When making decisions on student status, higher education institutions and SAAS follow regulations produced by the Scottish Government.
What are the regulations?
From 1 August 2022, new regulations come into force setting out eligibility requirements for home fee status and student support in Scotland. These consolidate the previous fees and student support regulations.
- The Education (Fees) (Scotland) Regulations 2022 (No 156)
- The Student Support (Scotland) Regulations 2022 (No. 157)
The regulations are complex. If a prospective student is unsure about their eligibility, they should discuss it with their university and SAAS.
Who is eligible?
In general, to be eligible for home fee status and student support, including free tuition, student loans, bursaries, and grants, students must have a ‘relevant connection’ with Scotland. This means they must be ‘settled’ in the UK and ‘ordinarily resident’ in Scotland on the ‘relevant date’. They must also have lived in the UK for the three years immediately before this date.
To determine eligibility for student support, a student’s age, previous study, course, institution, and level of independence are also considered.
Students ordinarily resident in Scotland and doing their first degree will generally be eligible for free tuition. SAAS will pay the tuition fees of eligible students for five years in total. This includes four years for a degree and an additional year (or ‘+1 year’) to allow for course changes or repeating a year of study.
A settled person is someone ordinarily resident in the UK without any immigration restriction on the length of their stay. The regulations take this definition from immigration law (section 33(2A) of the Immigration Act 1971). Students with right of abode in the UK or indefinite leave to remain will meet the criteria.
Being ‘ordinarily resident’
A person is ordinarily resident if they normally and lawfully live in an area from choice. Temporary absences, including for work, are permitted. In reaching a judgement about whether a student fulfils the ordinarily resident criteria, assessors rely on legislation and case law from UK courts and tribunals.
Students will not be considered ordinarily resident in Scotland if their main purpose in being there is, or has been, full-time study.
The ‘relevant date’
The date when a student’s course starts determines the ‘relevant date’. It is:
- 1 August for courses that start between 1 August and 31 December;
- 1 January for courses that start between 1 January and 31 March;
- 1 April for courses that start between 1 April and 30 June;
- 1 July for courses that start between 1 July and 31 July.
What impact has Brexit had?
Following the UK’s exit from the European Union, the Scottish Government announced new higher education students arriving from the EU would no longer qualify for home fee status and free tuition from the 2021/22 academic year.
European Economic Area (EEA) and Swiss nationals, who have been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme, will be eligible for home fee status and student support on broadly the same basis as before Brexit. For example, EU nationals with settled status, who live in Scotland and have been ordinarily resident in the UK for three years, will generally be eligible for home fee status, free tuition, and student loans, bursaries, and grants.
Are there any exceptions?
Students might be eligible for home or RUK fee status and student support if they meet the criteria for a limited group of exceptional categories.
A requirement to be ordinarily resident in Scotland will generally also apply in these cases, and students may need to have been living in the UK continuously for a certain period. The exceptional categories are:
- Persons granted refugee status, discretionary leave, or humanitarian protection and family members;
- Iraqi nationals with indefinite leave to enter;
- Syrian nationals under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme;
- Afghan interpreters under the Locally Employed Staff scheme;
- Afghan nationals under the Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy or Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme;
- Stateless persons;
- Persons granted leave as a victim of modern slavery;
- Young asylum seeker or the child of an asylum seeker;
- Persons granted Calais leave to remain;
- Persons who have applied to the Ukraine Family Scheme, Ukraine Sponsorship Scheme, or the Ukraine Extension Scheme.
Students might also be eligible under the ‘long residence’ category if they are either:
- Under 18 and have lived in the UK for at least 7 years;
- 18 or over and have lived in the UK for at least 20 years (or at least half of their life).
SAAS has produced guidance on these exceptional categories and the support students may be eligible for.
The UK Council for International Student Affairs
The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) provides specialist information and advice to international students and education providers on fees and funding.
It has produced guidance on the eligibility categories for home student status in effect in Scotland from 1 August 2021.
UKCISA also has a student advice line for discussing individual cases (T:+4420 7788 9214), available Monday to Friday (except for public holidays) between 1pm and 4pm.
The Scottish Government guide Apply for student finance provides an overview for how to apply for student support in Scotland. The Student Information Scotland website also provides information on student finance, including budget and funding calculators.
The Commons Library briefing Student support for undergraduates across the UK sets out the amount of financial support undergraduates may receive in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) briefing The price of free tuition in Scotland covers the debate about tuition fees in the period since devolution.