THERESA May has refused to extend a no-deal Brexit student visa scheme from three to four years to help EU nationals studying at Scottish universities.

The matter was taken up by Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, at Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday amid concerns by institutions in Scotland.

Earlier this year a group which represents the UK’s leading universities called on the Home Secretary to scrap plans for a 36-month visa for EU nationals coming to the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The Russell Group said the European Temporary Leave to Remain (ETLR) scheme would discriminate against Scottish universities and any future EU students wanting to study engineering and medicine courses, as they last more than three years.

Under the proposal, if a Brexit deal cannot be reached with Brussels, the UK Government will introduce a new temporary immigration category for EU nationals arriving after Brexit but before the Home Office establishes the UK’s new immigration system, which it hopes to do by January 2021.

EU citizens arriving within this period would only be able to stay in the UK for three months before being required to obtain ETLR, allowing them to live, work and study for 36 months on a non-extendable basis.

Beyond that, there is still no clarity over what future visa options may exist or what the eligibility criteria would be.

Blackford asked May to extend the scheme to four years to reflect the length of the standard undergraduate university degree in Scotland.

“In a no-deal scenario, her Government intend to curb EU student visas to three years. Scottish university courses are generally for four years,” he said.

“The Scottish Government and Scottish universities have asked repeatedly for this simple change to be made to reflect our circumstances.

“Will the Prime Minister confirm today that her Government will extend visas to four years to allow for Scottish university students, or will she once again completely ignore the wishes and interest of Scotland, as she has done right through this whole shambolic Brexit process?”

May refused, saying the “situation is not quite as problematic for those students” as Blackford had set out and suggested the visas could be “converted”.

She went on to say the SNP “needs to ensure that it spends more time improving the quality of education in Scotland and less time obsessing about independence”.

Last year, around 15,000 EU students started UK university courses expected to last more than three years, which was a quarter of all EU students coming to study in Britain.

Russell Group head of policy Jess Cole said earlier this year: “Introducing a non-extendable, three-year visa for EU nationals would be bizarre.

“It’s a kick in the teeth to Scottish universities, given nearly every undergraduate course in Scotland is four years, and to courses such as medicine and engineering, which are also longer.

“This makes no sense for the NHS and industry, given the doctors and engineers we need.

“These are most likely unintended consequences of an ill-considered government policy – but even so, we have repeatedly made our concerns clear to the Home Office and have still received no reassurances. It’s time to scrap these plans and come good on the promises made to the EU citizens who contribute so much to our society and economy – whether they are here already or planning to come in the next few years.”

The PM has yet to get her EU withdrawal agreement backed by MPs following three major Commons defeat. In a bid to avoid a no deal exit, she agreed a new extension to the Brexit process with European leaders until 31 October, if she failed to get her deal through the Commons by May 23.