The Scottish Government has announced that students from EU nations who begin their courses in academic year 2019-20 will continue to enjoy free university tuition.

The announcement sees an extension of the existing pledge for new students in the years 2017-18 and 2018-19. The Scottish Higher Education minister, Shirley-Anne Somerville, unveiled the move in Holyrood explaining: “This will provide confidence for prospective EU students considering coming to study in Scotland, as well as the clarity that our institutions require in order to plan for that academic year.”

Ms. Somerville also noted in her speech: “We are the first government in the UK to make such a commitment.

“We do so to send a strong message to current and prospective students – you are welcome here.”

Calls for clarification on the matter have been heard across the country’s Higher Education sector amid concern that uncertainty would dampen interest in attending university in Scotland.

In response, the convener of Universities Scotland, Professor Andrea Nolan, said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has responded to the sector’s call for clarity on this position and they have done so in a timely fashion.

“Today’s announcement gives some much-needed clarity and assurance to universities, but most importantly demonstrates to EU students that they continue to be welcome in Scotland.”

The announcement has also received that most rare of political prizes – cross-party support. Both Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour have praised the move by the current minority SNP government. Education spokeswoman for the Scottish Conservatives, Liz Smith, said: “It is important to send out a strong message to current and prospective students that Scotland is a good place to be.

“I think all MSPs are aware of the outstanding contribution EU students and staff make to our universities.”

Ms. Smith’s Conservative counterpart, Iain Gray, said the announcement will “mean that EU citizens thinking of applying to study in Scotland in [the 2019- 20] academic year will know what support will be available to them, and that is important.”