Proposal in relation to relevant date
27. In assessing eligibility for home fee status and student support, the 2022 Regulations provide that the assessment is to be undertaken on the "relevant date". This has sometimes been referred to by SAAS as being "the first day of the first academic year of the course". The Regulations allow for 4 different relevant dates depending on the point in the year the course commences.
28. The relevant date in relation to a course is, for a course starting in the period:
1 August to 31 December - 1 August,
1 January to 31 March - 1 January,
1 April to 30 June - 1 April, and
1 July to 31 July - 1 July,
in each case the 'relevant date' being at the start of the first year of the course of education.
29. This means that a student's eligibility for home fee status and student support is undertaken at the start of the course. If they are eligible at that point then, in most cases, they will remain eligible throughout the duration of their course of education.
30. However, this also means that if an applicant is not eligible for either home fee status or student support on the relevant date but subsequently becomes eligible part-way through their course, SAAS do not reassess the student during their course of education.
31. There is an exception to this rule is in relation to refugees: the 2022 Regulations allow for an eligibility assessment to be undertaken at the date an application for student support is made (which could be part-way through the course), so long as the student was a refugee at the date that their application for student support was submitted.
32. The policy rationale for the current position is to prevent a significant administrative burden for SAAS of having to reassess eligibility on residence grounds on an annual basis.
33. The vast majority of courses in Scotland commence in the autumn, resulting in the most common relevant date of 1 August being applied to determine residency eligibility.
34. Unlike assessment of household income (which is used to determine the level and type of living cost support which students receive), eligibility on the grounds of residence as the trigger for accessing home fee status / living cost support is not reassessed every year of the course. If a student is deemed eligible / ineligible on the grounds of residence on the relevant date, then that status applies for the duration of that course. This approach enables consistency with tuition fee status awarded by colleges or universities. Each institution will determine a fee status for students and that will be the student's fee status for the duration of the course. Having a set of rules that could result in a change in status part-way through a course could impact on institutions' finances (for instance, if a student stopped paying international fees and became eligible to pay the home fee rate part-way through a course).
35. A reassessment process during the course could also impact "controlled subjects", which are (mainly medical) subjects that the Scottish Government has a policy interest in ensuring that student numbers correspond with projected staffing needs in the NHS (for example) in future years.
36. If, however, the assessment of eligibility for applicants could be streamlined in a manner such as that proposed in this consultation, it may be possible for SAAS to consider re-assessing some students part-way through their course if their circumstances change so as to render them eligible for home fee status or student support. If this only applied to a small number of students, then this should not have a significant impact on institutions' financial planning or the Scottish Government's policy on controlled subjects.
37. The Scottish Government is considering the possibility of setting out a number of 'events' that could trigger a re-assessment of eligibility in subsequent years of study. For example, if a student was ineligible for home fee status / student support in year one but during the course of that academic year they triggered an 'event' provision', this could lead to their funding entitlement being reassessed in year two.
38. Such events could include a person being granted a particular form of leave, for instance obtaining indefinite leave to remain. Another 'event' might be the student becoming a family member of a person with protected rights or of a person who is settled in the UK or a family member of a UK or EU national with resident status in Gibraltar or coming within the personal scope of the citizens' rights provisions. Each of the current eligibility categories would need to be examined to consider whether it might be appropriate, in certain circumstances, to extend eligibility part-way through the course. Another factor to consider is whether the minimum period of residence in the UK (or elsewhere, depending on the category) should be assessed from the point at which the individual's circumstances changed, or still from the relevant date.
39. In order to ensure that those benefiting from home fee status and / or student support could be assured that their support would continue throughout their course, any change to eligibility part-way through must only operate in favour of the student. This would mean that while an 'event' may have the effect of rendering an international student eligible for home fee status, a student enrolled as a home fee student could not lose that status during their course of study.
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