Rising student debt (Scotsman 26/012/16) will come as no surprise to anyone who works in a Scottish university. The SNP were elected in 2007 on a pledge to wipe student debt, but instead they have piled it on the poorest Scots.
When elected, they abolished the “graduate endowment”, a £2,000 fee paid by students after graduation, and Alex Salmond quickly claimed “The rocks will melt with the sun before I allow tuition fees to be imposed on Scottish students”. In a typically modest move, he even had his words carved in stone and unveiled them in the grounds of one of Scotland’s best universities.
The problem is that fees are only part of the cost of attending university, the second part of the equation is living costs. If you come from a wealthy family, there’s a good chance that the “bank of mum and dad” will help with living costs. Poorer students, however, must rely on a bursary from the Scottish Government.
Currently the SNP offers the very poorest students a bursary of just £1875 per year. In comparison, ten years ago Labour offered the poorest students a bursary of £2,455 (~£3,000 today).
This means that whilst all students benefit from abolition of the £2,000 graduate endowment, the books have been balanced by cutting £4,500 from the bursary awarded to the poorest students on a typical 4 year degree programme. Poor students must fund their studies via debt and/or work.
This movement of money from the poorest to the richest at a time of “austerity” is the action of a government that says its number one priority is cutting the attainment gap.