Another quick guest post from our pal Aidan Skinner. Commenters, like post authors, are encouraged to play the ball.

Mike Russell yesterday announced that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland would have to pay fees of up to £9000 per year from 2013-2014 (there seems to be some muddle about what the position is on 2012-2013, no cap at all?). While clearly part of the SNP plan to plug the funding gap between Scottish universities this may not bring the level of income that he hopes – there was a 15% drop in the number of university students coming from England last year, presumably this move will cause those numbers to go off a cliff. But, for the sake of argument let’s assume that this does work as planned and our universities get a non-trivial amount of funding from it.

As soon as Scotland becomes independent it all disappears. Under EU rules we can’t charge EU students more than we charge Scottish students. There’s an exemption for students from within the member state that allows us to charge non-Scottish UK students but, after independence, they won’t be part of the same EU member state anymore. We can’t apply a quota to EU students, they have to be given access to Scottish institutions on the same terms as Scots. While the numbers are currently relatively low, approximately 16,000 at the moment, that still costs the Scottish government £75m each year. So we’ll either have to a) charge Scottish and EU students for university or b) offer free education for everyone through general taxation.

Now, much as I dislike the idea of tuition fees, I really don’t see how option b is feasible. We’d have a massive influx of students from rUK bringing no money with them.

So the logical conclusion is presumably that, post independence, the SNP would bring in tuition fees for all Scottish students. “Tuition Free with the SNP” becomes “Tuition Free with the SNP (until we achieve our primary goal, at which point you get Tuition Fees)!”.

Or is there a secret alternative plan?

HT to loveandgarbage for this idea.