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Bursaries make headline news

October 6, 2014

Today’s Herald carried a prominent piece on bursary cuts, and bids for these to be reversed, ahead of the Scottish Budget later this week, with comments in favour of raising grant levels from the NUS, the UCU, Labour and the Conservative Parties.  Perhaps the most important quote comes from the NUS, who say they will “be pushing hard for increased grants for the poorest students.”

This is the strongest statement on grants from the NUS since August 2012 and the most prominent coverage the issue has had in over two years in The Herald, a paper with an important readership for Scottish policy matters.  It should have some impact on levels of awareness and debate.

There was also a brief reference to grant reductions in the paper’s broader editorial on higher education and a short comment piece from me.

The Scottish Government response follows an established pattern, avoiding acknowledgement of any grant cuts and re-running the problematic line on averages, but containing in this case an unusually qualified quotation of the NUS’s views, on which it has often relied:

Aside from providing 120,000 students with free tuition, students from the least well-off families can access a guaranteed annual minimum income of £7500 through a combination of bursaries and loans. Scotland continues to have the lowest level of average student loan debt for students in the UK and the simplified student support package, launched in 2012, puts more money into their pockets. At the time [sic], NUS Scotland described the package as the best in the UK.

More interesting though perhaps is the reaction below the line.  Amongst the very few comments is the standard political knockabout and casual dismissal of any figure work which goes against the dominant rhetoric.  But there are also some thoughtful, concerned contributions, including one which is  unprecedented among  reactions I have seen to previous pieces on this topic:

Being a SNP member, this does not make for good reading. If the SG are going backwards on this issue I would hope that they will do the right thing. Let’s not hide behind convoluted numbers. If they are genuinely still maintaining the funding for these students let us see the truth of it in plain language. The last thing I ever expected of a SNP government is for them to sound like Tories.

As awareness increases of this issue, perhaps there will be more reactions like this.  It may be about to become harder for the government to dismiss critical analysis of the effects of its policies using the lines it has relied on to date.



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