Scottish universities will set tuition fees for "rest-of-UK" students at a level that will not deter them from coming to Scotland, the body representing higher education institutions in Scotland has pledged.
Universities Scotland said it remained keen to encourage a flow of students across the border after a number of English students this week contacted the Equality and Human Rights Commission claiming they faced discrimination under the new tuition fees policy announced by Education Secretary Michael Russell last week.
Mr Russell has given Scottish universities the freedom from 2012-13 to charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland fees of up to pound;9,000 a year while Scottish students will continue to pay no tuition fees.
The move, he said, would prevent a wave of fee refugees from the rest of the UK taking university places away from Scots and would also help bridge the funding gap between Scottish institutions and their competitors south of the border, many of whom will charge the maximum pound;9,000 fee from next year.
But a week after Mr Russell's announcement, it is not yet clear how the savings made and revenue raised by this move will be distributed. There has been speculation the move could disproportionately benefit those institutions with higher numbers of RUK students, as tuition fees go directly to the institution providing the course.
The number of RUK students attending Scottish universities varies widely - from 6,175 at Edinburgh University and 2,335 at Glasgow, to 90 at the University of the West of Scotland and 35 at the UHI Millennium Institute this year.
Mr Russell has said he plans to work with the Scottish Funding Council, Universities Scotland and NUS Scotland to ensure the new money benefits the sector.
A Government spokesman said its policy would generate savings from the teaching grant, but their distribution across the sector would be decided between NUS Scotland, the Scottish Funding Council and Universities Scotland.
Currently, the SFC's teaching block grant funds a set number of student places at each university; universities then decide how many places to allocate to Scottish students and how many to applicants from the rest of the UK. RUK students contribute towards their Scottish university education by paying an annual tuition fee of typically pound;1,820 per year.
But under the new rules, the SFC will no longer have to provide teaching grants for most RUK student places - subjects such as medicine are likely to be an exception - and the education of RUK students will be funded solely through the fees charged by individual universities. That saving could, it is envisaged, be shared across the entire sector, including those institutions with low numbers of RUK students who stand to gain little from charging higher fees.
Universities across Scotland told TESS this week they would not be deciding the precise level of tuition fee for next year until later this summer, although some have already indicated they were likely to set the fee level well below the pound;9,000 cap.
Julia Belgutay, firstname.lastname@example.org
WHERE UK STUDENTS GO
INSTITUTION - REST OF UK STUDENTS
Aberdeen - 2,120
Abertay - 280
Dundee - 1,220
Edinburgh College of Art - 380
Napier - 615
Edinburgh - 6,175
Glasgow Caledonian - 345
Glasgow School of Art - 380
Glasgow - 2,335
Heriot-Watt - 955
Queen Margaret - 540
Robert Gordon University - 160
Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama - 140
St Andrews - 2,260
Scottish Agricultural College - 35
Stirling - 845
Strathclyde - 445
UHI - 35
University of the West of Scotland - 90
Figures from 2009-10.