Scottish independence: What does it mean for students?

Graduation 2014 NBS

This week, Scotland will vote on whether to remain part of the UK. As the big day looms ever closer, students on both sides of the border will wait with bated breath, unsure of what either outcome might mean for their future.

For Yes supporters, independence will represent the opportunity to secure a brighter future, where greater democracy and representation could pave the way for a chance at increased social mobility and the ability to dictate the terms under which their society operates.

For the No camp, independence will look more like an unnecessary leap into the dark, most probably led by an SNP government who have been unkind to colleges and universities in the past. They will look warily at Scotland’s potential position within the European Union and wonder what might happen to things like the Erasmus programme or their foreign classmates.

For others, the future of students who moved from the rest of the UK to study in Scotland might play heavy on their minds. What will happen to them in the event of independence? Would Scotland continue to treat them differently from other EU students? If not, could Scotland really cope with the inevitable influx of young people looking for free higher education?

These issues offer a perfect microcosm of the bigger problems at play in the referendum question. The likelihood is that we won’t see much more in the way of answers to these types of questions in the lead up to the big day, and many will feel like not enough has been done to make things clearer for voters.

The most commonly heard complaint from the undecided or recently converted is that there simply isn’t enough information out there on some of the big issues that matter to them. Certainly students will feel like many of the factors that directly affect their studies have been passed up for discussion in favour of more high-profile issues such as the currency and nuclear weapons.

Like many other questions in the debate, the future of education in Scotland has largely fallen under the umbrella of larger issues. Those on the No side argue that luxuries such as free higher education, free prescriptions and a fully functioning health service would be unsustainable in an independent Scotland without the larger UK economy to support them.

For the nationalists, the debate has centred on the possibility of a socialist, oil-rich utopia where anything is possible and the Tories are nothing but a distant memory. As far as they’re concerned, Scotland, free from the shackles of Westminster, would be able to bring much greater opportunities to the people of Scotland, including those in full or part-time education.

The uncomfortable truth is that neither side is completely right or wrong. If Scotland does become an independent country, new opportunities will certainly present themselves. At the same time however, some of the opportunities that are exclusive to the members of the UK will of course be taken away.

This is perhaps the hardest thing for people to get their head around. A vote for independence is not a vote for 100 years of the SNP or even for the SNP’s current manifesto. If Scotland does decide to go it alone this week, more than ever before the people of Scotland will decide what their future holds.

Reports on the type of economy an independent Scotland would be left with have varied wildly. Some suggest that Scotland could become one of the richest countries in the world and enjoy the kind of benefits that the Norwegians have used their oil funds to secure.

Others have been far less generous and suggest that taxes may need to rise to account for new governmental systems and to subsidise the movement of businesses in and out of the newly independent Scotland.

Education is a perfect place to study the potential impacts of independence because for many, higher education represents exactly the same thing independence does: opportunity or risk. Independence – if it happens – will be exactly what we make of it.


This article originally appeared on


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