The Scottish government is to introduce legislation to close the loophole on UK residents claiming dual EU nationality to avoid paying university tuition fees in Scotland.
The new regulations, to be put in place by 2013-14, will force dual nationality university applicants to prove that they have previously exercised their right of EU residency by living in an EU country outside the UK before they can be accepted as an EU student and have their fees paid.
This would prevent the use of dual nationality solely to benefit from free tuition, education secretary Michael Russell said last week when the government published new guidance for universities for 2013-14 on assessing dual nationality applicants.
Students from the rest of the UK have to pay fees of up to pound;9,000 from this year, while EU students study for free at Scottish universities. The issue around dual nationality emerged when it transpired that students from Northern Ireland could potentially use their Irish citizenship to apply as EU students. The legislation will also apply to students within the wider European Economic Area and Switzerland.
Professor Pete Downes, convener of Universities Scotland, welcomed the move by the government, although he said institutions had not seen a large influx of applicants from Northern Ireland looking to exploit the loophole.
"However, it is necessary to take action to close it for future years to avoid any confusion for students and parents alike," he said.
"Every university in Scotland is proud to welcome students from across the UK and further afield to study here, but what attracts them must continue to be the quality of the education we can offer."
Robin Parker, president of NUS Scotland, said the clarification by the Scottish government would "provide the guidance necessary for students from outside Scotland to make an informed choice when applying to come to university in Scotland".
He said the confusion over the issue had been the fault of the Westminster government, whose "catastrophic" policy to triple fees for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students was proving disastrous for student applications.