Migrant students in Scotland win equal right to free tuition in landmark case

Court of session rules criteria that meant Ola Jasmin missed out by 58 days breached her human rights

Students from migrant families in Scotland will have the same right to free university tuition as their peers, after a landmark court judgment which legal experts say highlights the positive impact of human rights legislation.

The court of session in Edinburgh found that Iraq-born Ola Jasim, who has lived in Scotland for nine years but missed out on the criteria for free tuition fees by 58 days, had her human rights breached.

The refugee rights group Maryhill Integration Network, which has been campaigning on the issue of access to university education, said it expected the “life-changing” ruling to impact on hundreds of other migrant young people and “open a lot of doors”.

Jasim told the Guardian: “I’ve been living in Scotland since primary seven so I’m just like everyone else. I consider this country to be my home so to be told you don’t deserve the same treatment as your peers felt really discriminatory and unwelcoming.”

Students under 18 on the first day of their course who are ordinarily resident in Scotland and have lived in the UK for seven years are generally eligible for free tuition. Those aged between 18 and 25 must have lived in the UK for either half their life or 20 years to qualify, creating a further “cliff edge” effect for younger students.

The court of session, Scotland’s highest court, found that the pressures placed on Jasim and her family by having to self-fund her degree had become “intolerable”.

In his opinion, Lord Sandison wrote: “[Ola Jasim] qualified herself amply to proceed into higher education, but unlike her peers with settled status, cannot do so without incurring intolerable financial pressures, in consequence of which she is likely to be deprived of the opportunity of that education for which she is well-suited at the time in her life when it would be most advantageous for her.”

After excelling at science and maths at secondary school, she is now in the third year of medical studies at Dundee University, a degree which brings its own extra expenses to pay for lab coats, a stethoscope costing over £100 and textbooks that can cost £50 each.

Jasim said the stress of her financial struggles, and guilt over the burden on her parents, with birthday celebrations and students nights’ missed out, had taken their toll. “It does feel like a weight off my parents’ shoulders now and I feel I can finally live the university life.”

The judicial review of the decision by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) was brought by the human rights specialist Andy Sirel, of JustRight Scotland, who said the case highlighted how essential the Human Rights Act is to everyone in the UK.

“This is about using the act to help a group of young people who have grown up in Scotland who want to make a contribution to the country they live in. It shows how the Human Rights Act – which the UK government is intent on getting rid of – can work in practice in a positive way.

“We look forward to the Scottish government doing the right thing in light of the court’s decision, and taking steps to ensure fair and equal access to the right to education for all children and young people who call Scotland their home.”

A Scottish government spokesperson said it was considering the outcome of the case carefully and would respond in due course, adding: “Ministers are committed to a fair funding system that supports students to succeed.”


Libby Brooks Scotland correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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