Is university free in Scotland?

Written by Chris Thornton | 6th of December 2023
Is university free in Scotland?

Yes! Students get free university tuition in Scotland if they have lived there for three years.

One of the benefits of living in Scotland is that high school students do not have to pay for further education. Tuition fees are entirely free for any course at college or university, including training for doctors, scientists and engineers. Free education is a significant advantage to Scottish students as they can work to lift themselves out of poverty and make a better life through education.

Unfortunately, in the other UK countries - Wales, Northern Ireland and England - you have to pay tuition fees in most circumstances. UK Students accrue significant debt at the beginning of their careers. Free education has created some bad feelings towards Scotland as English taxpayers feel they are bearing the brunt of the costs, and their children receive no benefit.

Let's look at why Scotland gets free education.

Young student jumping at Glasgow University.
Happy student at Glasgow University!

Why do the Scottish get free university?

As part of the UK, Scotland is assigned funding as part of the Barnett formula. There is no extra money given to Scotland for free education; the Scottish Government see it as a right that all citizens should be able to study further without fear of the onerous financial burden and decide to spend the allocated budget on this benefit.

Although Scotland is part of the UK, it has gained more autonomy over the years through a process called devolution. In 1999 the brand-new Scottish Parliament received a series of devolved powers, one of which was education, leading to the creation of the Scottish Education Department to take over these functions, which included:

  • School curriculum and qualifications.

  • Building and maintenance of school buildings.

  • Teacher training.

  • Working to close the poverty-related attainment gap.

Scotland does not get extra tax money from other areas of the UK to fund free tuition it is just a policy of the Scottish Government to help the Scottish population. While many English taxpayers are enraged at the thought of their taxes giving us freebies, this is incorrect.

English students should demand the same from their Government, so they are not burdened with debt. There was money on the table to pay for a £37 billion track and trace system and £205 billion to be spent on the renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system, a fraction of that could be spent on improving the education prospects of those living in other areas of the UK. It is purely a political choice not to afford free tuition to English students.

While giving everyone a free education may seem frivolous; the taxes will find their way back as graduates will have higher-paying jobs, be in higher tax brackets, and have less stress on the benefits system. Scotland is also a much smaller country population-wise than England; it's easier to give 5 million people access to free education than 55 million.

Other than being free, what are the benefits of free education?

  • All citizens will have an equal chance at further education, leading to better job prospects regardless of background.

  • Fewer money worries, leading to better concentration and less stress while studying.

  • Kids growing up in Scotland will have a better outlook on life, knowing money is not a limiting factor in their dreams as an adult.

  • Available student loans are a cheap manageable way of borrowing money to help with living costs during your studies.

  • The employment rate is higher, and it reduces benefits claims.

Young students
Relaxed students at a Scottish university. Typical tuition fees are £1,820.

Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)

Student finance must be applied for via the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS); it is not an automatic process. If you have a confirmed government award from SAAS, your tuition fee will be paid by SAAS automatically on your behalf with no money passing between you and the academic establishment. Reapplication is required for each academic year you wish your university education fees to be paid.

Find out more on SAAS on their website: SAAS Website.

Student loan

So if there are no tuition fees in Scotland, are there still student loans? Yes, a student loan is still often taken to help cover living costs whilst studying. SAAS is also the body in charge of student loans.

These loans are of a very low-interest rate (1.5%) and often don't need to be repaid until the student is earning a certain threshold of money in full-time employment; this is subtracted automatically from their wages. The rate is 9% but only on what is above each threshold (not their entire salary). So it is quite manageable.

If this debt has not been paid off after 30 years, it is completely written off.

Travel expenses

Scottish students may also claim travel expenses for commuting to their college or university. Evidence is usually kept in the form of bus/train tickets and a claim made to SAAS each year of the course. Free travel is fantastic for students from poorer backgrounds and makes further education much more accessible.

Studying abroad

If part of your course includes compulsory study abroad, then the cost of your journey and medical insurance can be claimed back from SAAS.


For some job types, bursaries are available - these are cash grants (basically free money) that do not have to be repaid. Nursing and Midwifery students currently receive £10,000 per year to help with accommodation costs and living expenses during their studies.

For a four year course, £10,000 will be received per year for years 1 to 3, and then £7,500 in the final year. £37,500 over the lifetime of the course AND having tuition fees paid is a significant boost for those looking to study nursing or midwifery in Scotland.

It doesn't end there; additional benefits for eligible students include:

  • Dependants allowance - up to £3,640 per year.

  • Single parents allowance - £2,303 per year.

  • Childcare allowance - £2,466 per year.

I can already feel the anger from UK readers, but remember, this is spent as part of Scotland's block grant dictated by the Barnett Formula; no additional money is given to Scotland to cover nurses' bursaries or other benefits. It is a political decision, not a financial one.

Does Scotland get any other "free" benefits?

Yes, as mentioned before, the Scottish Government is a much more left leaning and socialist Government than other areas of the UK; money from the block grant is used for:

  • Free school meals - school children in primary 1 to 5 receive a free school meal at lunchtime. Primary 6 and 7 students are expected to receive free meals in 2023 as part of an expansion to the project. The idea is that all children will receive at least one good cooked meal per day to get the best possible start in life.

  • Free care for the elderly - since 2002, people over 65 have had the right to free care in Scotland. Help on offer can include assistance with personal hygiene, mealtimes, medication, immobility and general well being.

  • Free medical prescriptions - all medicine is available free on the Scottish NHS. Anything from pain killers to insulin can be claimed for free. Read more on why Scotland gets free prescriptions?

  • Dental treatment - all dental work on the Scottish NHS is subsidised.

  • No bedroom tax - this tax on "under occupied homes" has been mitigated by the Scottish Government since 2013 for £50 million per year.

  • Free sanitary products for women - Since August 2022, all women in Scotland can now claim free feminine hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary towels.

Scottish resident independent students are entitled to free prescriptions on the Scottish NHS.
Medical prescriptions are free on the Scottish NHS.

Is university free in Scotland for English students?

No, English students must pay to study at Scottish universities. Free education is only available to those who have lived in Scotland for at least three years before their application. It would be a great idea to move to Scotland and time it so your kids leave high school and claim their free higher education.

UK students will be charged up to £9,250 per year for their tuition in Scotland if they have not lived here for three years.

Can international students get free education in Scotland?

If you are from outside the UK/EU, you cannot claim financial support via SAAS.

Can EU students get free education in Scotland?

Since Scotland was taken out of the European Union (despite voting to remain) following the Brexit vote, new EU students will have to pay tuition fees to study in Scotland. However, those EU students that have already started their studies will have their free tuition honoured for the remainder of their course.

Is open university free in Scotland?

No, but there are grants on offer. If you earn less than £25,000 per year, you are eligible to study for free if you live in Scotland By using the "Part-Time Fee Grant".

For courses starting in October 2022, you should apply to the SAAS online by 8 September 2022.

Is college also free in Scotland?

Yes, college is free for school leavers in the same way the university is; apply via SAAS.

How much do Scottish students save?

A significant amount, students from elsewhere in the UK would have to pay around £37,000 for a four-year undergraduate degree course in Scotland.

Independent student at university in Glasgow, Scotland. Direct tuition fees.
Glasgow University frontage.

Can Scottish students study in England for free?

Yes, an application can be made to SAAS to cover your tuition fees if you decide to study in England. You must again have lived in Scotland for three years to be able to claim financial support. Quoted from the Scottish Government website "SAAS can cover your tuition – whether you choose to study in Scotland or elsewhere in the UK.".

Sometimes SAAS can award a tuition fee loan; if this is less than the fees charged by your chosen English university, you may be required to pay the balance yourself.

Did the Royal family go to university in Scotland?

Prince William attended St Andrews University in 2001, attaining an undergraduate degree in geography. Many past royals have attended Gordonstoun School in Moray for their formative years, including Charles, Prince of Wales and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.

What are the best universities in Scotland?

Here are the top 10 universities in Scotland on the university league tables for 2022:

  1. The University of St Andrews.

  2. The University of Edinburgh.

  3. The University of Glasgow.

  4. The Heriot-Watt University.

  5. The University of Dundee.

  6. The University of Strathclyde.

  7. The University of Aberdeen.

  8. The University of Stirling.

  9. The Robert Gordon University.

  10. The Glasgow Caledonian University.

The future of free tuition in Scotland

Free further education is a major policy commitment from the SNP government (Scottish National Party), and while they are in power, this is unlikely to change. The SNP's popularity has significantly increased since 2015 and has dominated elections both locally and nationally.

It's likely that if the Conservative party came into power in Scotland, this benefit would be taken away, see this article from 2016. The Labour party has stated that they would retain the free tuition policy, but it's hard to know if they actually would... the SNP are the only party with a track record of keeping free university tuition fees in place. It would be so unfair to kick the ladder away from young students in the future.

I hope it does continue so my kids can receive free education at college or university if that's what they choose to do; there's no way we could afford £90,000+ in tuition fees.

Picture of St Andrews University. Undergraduate degrees. Annual tuition fees.
The picturesque St Andrews University.

Key takeaways:

  • Students that have lived in Scotland for at least three years are entitled to free further education.

  • Any subject is free, including medical and engineering qualifications.

  • Other countries in the UK do not have an equivalent free tuition policy.

  • Scotland receives no extra money for free tuition as part of the Barnett Formula.

  • Some courses, such as nursing, offer additional bursaries that do not need to be repaid.

  • Scots save over £37,000 on tuition fees over the lifetime of the course.

  • English students cannot study in Scotland for free.

  • Scottish students can study in England for free.

  • The SNP political party want to continue free tuition.


I hope this short overview has cleared up some of the most common misconceptions regarding free education in Scotland. Hopefully, other countries of the United Kingdom will follow suit and help their students achieve their dreams without being tied down with significant debt.

An educated population has always been one of Scotland's strengths, and it's often said that Scotland invented the modern world - please read my article on Scottish inventions for more information.

All information was correct at the time of writing, please check things like entry costs and opening times before you arrive.

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Hi, please leave a comment below, or why not start a discussion on the forum?


14th of August 2023 @ 20:46:24

Hi Mark, I'm not too sure how it would work in that circumstances. Best to contact the SAAS and ask them the question directly.

mark jenkins
14th of August 2023 @ 20:40:14

my three children were born in scotland and educated till the ages of 10 7 and 6 years old sadly due to work had to move to england, would they be eligible for free from uni fees. thank you

Sharif wazir
2nd of August 2023 @ 13:25:21

Thanks to inform about useful information about universities at UK

Amjad mohammad
20th of January 2023 @ 10:34:46

I have Read all information which is for those parants who can’t pay there children like me my daughter is doing law degree she got loan to study £9250 per year at Rate of interest 2.5 percent she already feels like burden on head my son was doing Engineering he study because he doesn’t want to be under debt now i got 2 daughter 1 in college and 1 year 7 they both determine to complete their degree I am under pressure how to Afford because living cost is so high . How to move to Scotland i need help Kind regards

30th of September 2022 @ 20:09:12

Hi Erin, I think the child would still need to have lived in Scotland for three years. I could be wrong though, I would contact SAAS directly and ask the question.

30th of September 2022 @ 20:05:11

If a father lives, works and pay taxes in Scotland, and a child lives in England with his mother, can he be eligible for a free university degree in Scotland?