Universities Scotland responds to Minister Lochhead’s statement on Further and Higher Education Sustainability Plan

The Minister for Further and Higher education, Mr Richard Lochhead MSP, made a statement to Holyrood this afternoon (Thursday 9 July 2020) to accompany the publication of the Scottish Government’s new Coronavirus Further and Higher Education Sustainability Plan.

The Plan confirms the Scottish Government’s decision on the fee status of EEA undergraduate students starting universities in academic year 2021/21. A decision was necessary as the UK’s transition period out of the EU ends on 31 December 2020. The Scottish Government has announced that EEA-domiciled students’ entitlement to free undergraduate education will end from 2021/22 and they will be required to pay fees on the same basis as international students from that point onward.

Responding to the Ministers’ announcement on EEA fee status of EU undergraduate students who start university in 2021/22, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:

“We welcome the clarity from the Scottish Government on the fee status for entrants from the EEA starting university in 2021. We appreciate that this will not have been an easy decision for the Scottish Government to make as Scotland’s partnerships and extensive connections with the EU will always be highly valued. However, this decision does offer Scotland an important opportunity to fully-fund the undergraduate education of Scottish students and shift the public funding of degree places onto solid ground for the first time in years. The pandemic has demonstrated how much that is needed.

“It is reassuring that there is a commitment that this resource won’t leave the university sector. That is vital at such a financially precarious time for universities.

“A move to international fee status for EU students from 2021 represents a big change to policy and funding at a challenging time for higher education so it will require very careful transition planning to avoid sharp, shocks that could further destabilise certain degree programmes or institutions. We also need early certainty about how the change affects students from the Republic of Ireland.

“It is important that we reassure all existing undergraduate students from the EEA, that this change only applies to new students, starting in 2021. There is no change for new entrants this autumn nor is there any change for anyone already studying for their degree until they have graduated.” 

Responding on the publication of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 sustainability plan for further and higher education, Professor Andrea Nolan, Convener of Universities Scotland, said:

“We welcome confirmation from the Scottish Government of the central role of higher education In Scotland’s recovery. We also value the recognition that universities are facing unprecedented financial challenges as we emerge from the first phase of the pandemic. The full financial impact is yet to hit higher education; if only half the usual number of international students start in the autumn universities will face a black hole of over £380 million.

“We welcome the Scottish Government’s acknowledgement that they are prepared to offer further financial support, beyond that presented today. Universities still face major financial uncertainties until September when it will become clear what numbers of international students have come to study in Scotland. We have invested a lot of time seeking to reassure students, at home and abroad, that Scotland can offer a safe and high quality and well-rounded experience come September and we sense that student confidence is building. It will be a long road to recovery and we need both Governments working with us, and together, to ensure that the different elements of support they have offered are complementary.

“Universities are committed to deliver for their students and to support a much broader range of people and organisations through the post-pandemic recovery, into new job opportunities and more secure and more skilled roles. We’re also focused on working with business and industry to drive the economic recovery and build back better.”


  • In his statement to Parliament, the Minister estimated that the revenue generated from no longer paying for EU undergraduate tuition will initially be £19m in 2021/22.