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Students from the rest of the European Union who come to Scotland for their university education could be liable for fees after independence, new legal advice has suggested.
Universities Scotland commissioned advice on the issue in the wake of concerns that students from the rest of the UK may no longer have to pay tuition fees of up to #9,000 a year following independence.
Alastair Sim, the director of the sector body, said the legal advice showed it ``may be possible to rely upon a residency requirement for preferential access to free higher education''.
At the moment an SNP flagship policy means students from Scotland who go to university north of the border do not pay any tuition fees.
While students from the rest of the UK pay tuition fees, these do not apply to students from other countries in the European Union.
But concerns have been expressed that if Scotland were to become independent, students from the rest of the UK would have to be treated in the same way as EU students - meaning they would no longer have to pay fees.
Some fear that situation could lead to more people from the rest of the UK coming north of the border to study, with Scottish students potentially being squeezed out.
Professor David Bell from Stirling University told BBC Scotland that the Scottish Government ``would not be able to charge students from England the same amount'' if the country left the UK. ``They would have to charge them the same as Scottish students get charged, which is nothing,'' he said.
``A student from Newcastle instead of having to pay #9,000 a year could attend a Scottish institution for no fees at all.''
He warned: ``That will increase demand for places in Scotland, the possibility is that Scottish students might get squeezed out.''
But Mr Sim said it may be possible to charge fees for students not normally resident in Scotland.
He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: ``We commissioned this advice and it is coming back and saying it may be possible to rely upon a residency requirement for preferential access to free higher education.
``That provides a nucleus of a way forward that could be developed for thinking about how we can keep opportunities open for Scottish students while managing sustainable cross border flows.''
He added: ``EU citizens, including those resident in what would become the remnant of the UK in the event of Scottish independence, for all these EU residents who are not normally resident in Scotland it maybe possible to construct a rationale that enables them to be charged a fee, while maintaining free higher education for EU citizens who are normally resident in Scotland.
``At the moment EU citizens who are resident outside the UK are entitled to free higher education in Scotland.
``Developing from this advice it is possible also to look at whether this provides a basis for some form of contribution for students who are from the rest of the EU but not normally resident in Scotland, in the event of Scottish independence.''
Mr Sim urged ministers to consider such a measure, stating: ``There would certainly have to be an objective case built for why it is necessary to take this measure, but I think it's certainly giving the Scottish Government the nucleus of something to work on in the event of independence.''