THE Scottish Government has announced it will change the rules to allow interpreters who worked for the UK armed forces in Afghanistan go to university or college.

The move rectifies an anomaly which saw more than 300 former Afghan interpreters shut out of support to become students, unlike their Iraqi counterparts, or most refugees.

Higher and Further Education minister Shirley Anne Somerville, had pledged to review their situation after admitting the interpreters, who had risked their lives and the safety of their families, were not able to seek financial support to participate in higher or further education, under Scottish rules. .

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament Ms Somerville said it was wrong and unfair that Afghan interpreters were barred from further and higher education because of their immigration status when others can be helped to study in Scotland.

Read more: You were usually unarmed but you always lived in fear of a bullet

Speaking about translators who had worked for the armed forces in Iraq, she said: “Home Office rules ... and our regulations on financial support ensure they could afford to study for qualifications which might help them succeed in their new lives here.

“It is therefore inexplicable that the same opportunity to remain here indefinitely was denied to Afghan interpreters who undertook similar work.”

Because they were given different status, technically allowing them five year’s leave to stay rather than indefinite leave to remain, the Afghans are prevented from being eligible for the same support to go to university, she told Parliament. “That is not fair nor equitable.”

“Action will be taken to open up student support to Afghan interpreters so that eligible Afghan students can apply for tuition fee and living cost support to undertake courses of further and higher education at our colleges and universities.”

Ms Somerville said the rules of the scheme governing eligibility for student support would be changed, in recognition of the contribution interpreters had made in their service to the UK and to armed forces, including those deployed to Afghanistan from communities all around Scotland.

The difference a chance to continue with their education would make to some individuals and their families was incalculable, Ms Somerville said.

The announcement was greeted by Glasgow Kelvin MSP Sandra White MSP who has previously called for the issue of funding for the interpreters to be addressed.

She said. “These people have come out, they helped our army and then we denied them the opportunity to learn.” Describing their immigration status as ‘absurd’ she said enabling them to play a full part in the life of the country was a debt owed to the interpreters. The announcement was also welcomed by Labour MSP for West Scotland, Mary Fee.

Mohammed Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, launched the campaign to win a change of policy to allow the translators to access higher education. He thanked The Herald for coverage which he said had been pivotal in achieving a positive outcome.

He said the position of the Afghan interpreters had long been a major injustice. “This was not the Scottish Government’s fault, but Scotland has delivered justice today for Afghans,” he said.

Ahmad Refa, was an interpreter for the British Army directly for three years in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, as well as working for a number of British and American companies in the region while the military conflict was at its height.

Read more: You were usually unarmed, but you always lived in fear of a bullet

He said he was delighted, and now hoped to take a computer science degree to complement a diploma he had begun in his own country but been unable to complete.

Now living in Govan, he hopes to secure a better job to help support his wife, son and daughter, he said.

Herald view: Former Afghan interpreters who aided our armed forces are right to demand help to access education