I propose to take Questions Nos. 358 to 360, inclusive, together.
Up until this year, Irish students benefited from a “free fee” policy for Scottish students and EU students from outside the UK when studying at Scottish higher education institutions, while students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland were charged fees.
In the new legal context established by the UK's departure from the European Union, Scotland has taken the decision to apply full international fee rates to EU students starting courses of study in Scotland in 2021. Irish students will, however, be treated on the same basis as UK students from outside Scotland.
This means that Irish undergraduate students living in the UK or Ireland will be liable for fees of up to £9,250 per annum for courses at Scottish higher education institutions, beginning later this year. In light of this, and with a view to mitigating the negative impacts of this change, Scotland has however set aside a residency requirement, which will allow Irish students to access its student loan system. It is important to note that these new arrangements will not impact on Irish students who have already commenced their studies at higher education institutions in Scotland.
Under the Common Travel Area, Irish and British citizens are afforded the right to access all levels of education and training, and associated student support, in each other's State, on terms no less favourable than those for the citizens of that State. I recognise in this context that Irish citizens will be treated no less favourably than British citizens, resident outside Scotland, for the purposes of student fees in Scotland. Notwithstanding that, I regret the introduction of the policy, which may impact on student mobility.
I - and officials in my Department - work on an on-going basis with the British Government to ensure the smooth operation of Common Travel Area and its associated rights and privileges. This work is mirrored across Government Departments, and each sectoral area.
Both the Minister for Further and Higher Education and I have spoken with our Scottish counterparts on several occasions in relation to the new fee arrangements for Irish students. We are also looking ahead and have discussed how best to develop future co-operation between Ireland and Scotland in the areas of further and higher education and research.
The Ireland-Scotland Joint Bilateral Review Report 2021-25, which I launched with the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for External Affairs in January, is focused on developing the Ireland-Scotland relationship in the round in the coming years. Importantly, the Review Report contains a recommendation for Irish and Scottish officials to establish a framework for education cooperation, including by finding ways to encourage student mobility.