NI students face higher fees at Scottish universities
Students from Northern Ireland who choose to go to university in Scotland could have to pay as much as £9000 a year in tuition fees from 2012.
Currently students from NI, England and Wales who study in Scotland pay just over £1800 a year.
Mike Russell, the Scottish education secretary, outlined proposals to allow higher education institutions to set their own fees, which would be capped.
Residents of Scotland studying at home will not pay any fees.
NI universities have been badly hit with a reduction in their budget next year of £7.5m, but face much higher cuts over the following three years.
The Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) said higher education will need to make cuts of £68m.
Some of that could be made up by increased tuition fees, cutting the number of students and changing the support for hard-up students
A public consultation outlining how the department plans to cope with a shortfall for the next four years closed on 10 June.
It included proposals to increase tuition fees at NI universities.
DEL minister Stephen Farry will present his proposals to the executive.
NUS Scotland strongly attacked the government's decision, claiming Scotland could become the UK's most expensive place to study for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
And opposition parties in Scotland said the move was an attack on students from the rest of the UK.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, the education secretary said he had launched a consultation on legislation allowing universities to set their own fees for students from the rest of the UK from 2012-13.
The move would then be followed by new legislation to cap fees at £9,000 a year from 2013-14 onwards.
Mr Russell said Scottish universities would be free to set fees of between £1,800 and £9,000 for other UK students, but said he expected levels to be lower than those south of the border.
A working group set up by the Scottish government and higher education body Universities Scotland has pointed to an average figure of £6,375.
Mr Russell said: "Scotland has and always will welcome students from all over the world to our universities.
"However, the decisions being taken in England could threaten the quality and competitiveness of our universities.
"We cannot allow Scotland to no longer be the best option and instead be known as the cheap option - we also must protect places for Scottish students."
Mr Russell added: "We are providing clarity for potential students from the rest of the UK that making the positive choice to study in Scotland will not cost more than it does in their home nation."
NUS Scotland president-elect Robin Parker claimed students from the rest of the UK could pay up to £36,000 to study in Scotland, compared to £27,000 in England, because most degrees offered in Scotland take four years to complete.
Accusing the Scottish government of hypocrisy after they rejected a market in tuition fees for Scottish students, he said: "This seems incredibly unfair, especially when the SNP have talked so much about the importance of access to university based on ability not ability to pay.
"We are not at all convinced that increasing fees is required to manage demand. And by introducing a market into education in Scotland, we're seeing some of the worst aspects of the proposals down south come to Scotland, directly against our tradition of fair access to university."
The move came after English universities got the go-ahead to charge up to £9,000 for tuition.