20% of NI students 'to exploit Irish passport loophole'
About 20% of students from Northern Ireland applying to study in Dundee intend to expolit a passport loophole to avoid fees, it has been reported.
Sixth form pupils in the UK who hold Irish passports can qualify for free university tuition in Scotland.
Dundee's daily paper, the Courier, has claimed that one in five NI applicants to Dundee University intend to apply under an Irish passport.
The Scottish Conservatives said the issue "has to be cleared up urgently".
University tuition fees are rising to a maximum of £9,000 per year across the UK from September, except at Scottish universities, where students who have lived in Scotland for a minimum of three years do not have to pay.
Earlier this month, BBC Northern Ireland revealed the loophole, under which UK students from outside Scotland can avoid tuition fees.
It they apply under an Irish passport, they are counted as EU students - and EU law does not allow discrimination against those from other member states.
The loophole means that the Scottish govenment would have to pick up the bill for Irish passport holders' university tuition.
On Monday, The Courier newspaper claimed it had obtained figures which "show hundreds of Northern Irish students applying to Dundee University this year are claiming to be eligible for free tuition as they hold an Irish passport".
Responding to the figures, the Scottish Conservatives said the Scottish National Party (SNP) government could no longer claim that there was no evidence that the loophole would not be exploited.
Their education spokeswoman, Liz Smith MSP, decribed the policy as "discriminatory" and called on the Scottish Education Secretary, Mike Russell, to take action.
"Fees from students across the UK provide significant revenue, and the SNP has not been clear on how this shortfall can be made up," she said.
She has written Mr Russell, asking him to explain both the policy and the criteria for tuition fees to the Scottish parliament.
The Labour party has claimed the SNP government got the whole fee structure wrong.
The party said it was a mistake to put Northern Ireland students in the position of trying to find out if they could take advantage of the apparent EU loophole and avoid fees.
Labour MSP, Jenny Marra, said the situation is becoming a farce.
When contacted by the BBC, a spokesman for Dundee University would not comment on the story, other than to say it would report details of this year's applications to Universities Scotland in due course.
This issue had came up here in NI earlier this month, Scottish universities are popular destinations for NI students. This loophole isn't cast iron as some universities in Scotland are scrutinising these applications to include residency tests, but it could leave the case of different jurisdictions of the UK charging different fees for third level education in a mess - the idea based on this loophole is that if you can show that you are entitled to citizenship of another EU country outside of the UK then you are looking to be treated as an EU student rather than a UK "outside jurisdiction" student and therefore be charged the same fees as those of local students. An English born cousin of mine who already holds an Irish passport is now finishing off her A-Levels and has a conditional place for Exeter but is seriously considering taking a gap year and apply to go up north instead if her fees were to go to zero. I'm sure there are thousands of school students born in England who are entitled to an Irish passport that could do the same, and then there's also those who can apply for a passport from other EU countries as well, not to mention students who are recent immigrants e.g. Poland, Latvia etc. It might not just be Scotland, Welsh and Northern Irish universities are freezing fees at around the £3k mark for local students which could be a secondary choice for some English students looking for still significantly reduced fees who might be able to take advantage of it. A possible "brain drain" anyone? Someone here might know a bit more about this.
P.S. The spelling mistakes in the report are not mine, they're the Beebs!