The link between education and deprivation is clear. Kids from poor backgrounds tend to do less well at school. This key factor is part of why we see poverty being passed down from generation to generation in Scotland.
We know that under the SNP this problem is getting worse in Scotland. Their cuts and indifference are holding back a generation – this can only result in worsening inequality in Scotland.
I grew up in one of the most deprived areas of the UK – a council estate in Kirkcaldy during the 1980’s miner’s strike. My route out of that was to work hard at school and go on to complete a degree and eventually a PhD. This solid educational base has led me to a career which has taken me right around the world – from Australia to Brazil, Japan and Dubai.
It breaks my heart to say that I had a better deal under Margaret Thatcher than kids growing up in my old street in Kirkcaldy have today. That’s utterly depressing.
My experience tells me that education is fundamental to reducing inequality in Scotland and elsewhere in the world. As a lecturer who manages one of the UK’s leading engineering programmes at a Scottish university I continually come across students who must leave university because they simply cannot afford to support themselves.
When elected in 2007 the SNP 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 literally carved in stone and unveiled 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.
A few years ago I came across a student from one of the most deprived areas in Edinburgh who as well as studying full-time also managed a small supermarket full-time. He was one of the very best students I have encountered, and was evidence that whilst Scots growing up in poor communities may lack opportunity, they don’t lack commitment, intelligence or ambition. As a country, we must do more to support them.