Today we welcome the Scottish Government’s announcement that tuition fees will be extended to migrant students in Scotland allowing more young people to access higher education, following the publication of the consultation analysis on the Residency criteria for access to financial support in Further and Higher Education.
This impactful change wouldn’t have been possible without the outstanding work of #OurGradesNotVisas campaign team and the successful legal challenge achieved by our legal team when deciding to take our client’s case to court as there was a clear “issue of fairness and human rights at stake” on access to financial support for college and university funding regarding the ‘long-residency’ requirement.
- Our legal case
Last year – following a landmark legal case which our legal team from the Scottish Just Law Centre worked on, the Court of Session Outer House found that the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) regulations were discriminatory by preventing a category of migrant young people, living lawfully in Scotland since their childhood, from accessing college or university alongside their peers.
The Court found that our client had her human rights breached after she could not access free tuition due to being 58 days short of the Scottish residency threshold.
For the Court these regulations were unlawful in light of Article 14 (the right not to be discriminated against) and Article 2 of Protocol 1 (the right to education) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- New SAAS payment scheme and public consultation on Further and Higher Education
Following the Court’s decision, SAAS had to rethink their eligibility criteria and update the SAAS Payment Scheme. This scheme lowered the residency requirement from 7 years or half a lifetime, to just three years.
At the same time, the Scottish Government launched a consultation to collect feedback and comments from the public on the regulations which ran from January to March 2023.
At JustRight Scotland, we submitted our response highlighting the positive changes included in the consultation and suggesting that the Scottish Government could go further as we do not believe that residency recorded at the start of the university course should dictate the funding for the full duration of the course.
JustCitizens also submitted their response underlining that – when talking about the length of residency (three years before being able to access further and higher educational funding in Scotland), the full meaning of “connection” to Scotland should be considered: it’s not only narrowed to the number of years people have lived in Scotland, or whether individuals were born in this country. “Connection” to Scotland should also be defined by the future – the possibilities of a new life, the urge to contribute to society in this country, and the desire to make Scotland our home.
- #OurGradesNotVisas campaign
In 2022, alongside community groups and grassroots organisations, we have launched #OurGradesNotVisas campaign to raise awareness about the fact that many students in Scotland were being excluded from accessing higher education due to their immigration status.
These students were from families who came to Scotland as refugees, yet despite settling and studying here, were treated the same as international students, subject to much higher fees to further their studies.
This unfair system has been the focus of our campaign – alongside our legal case, which led to changes within Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) regulations allowing more students to access funding and creating more equitable treatment for students in Scotland from refugee backgrounds and the publication of the Scottish Government’s consultation on changes to residency criteria for access to financial support in Further and Higher Education.
Our advocacy campaign was then shortlisted for the Scottish Charity Awards 2023 – Community Action category due to its impact across Scotland.
The residence rules – the Court found, failed to strike a fair balance between the impact they had on those excluded from eligibility for student support and the likely benefit to society of having clear rules restricting funding to those with a connection to Scotland. The positive changes introduced following the consultation will lead to a fairer future for young people in Scotland, who will now be able to move into careers and professions which benefit our society.
You can find out more about our campaign and vote for us here.
The long residency rule preventing migrant students living lawfully in Scotland since their childhood, from accessing college or university alongside their peers, no longer represents a barrier to access education. The changes introduced will also mean that unaccompanied children who are asylum seekers, as well as the children of asylum seekers, will be able to apply for free tuition.
At JustRight Scotland, we will continue to raise awareness about access to education and access to higher education for asylum seekers in Scotland as we believe that it’s necessary to extend this right to asylum seekers who are currently residing in Scotland for over three years but have an asylum claim pending.