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Scottish draft budget 2015-16: no reversal of grant cuts

October 9, 2014

Ahead of today’s draft budget for 2015-16 there was some pressure for the cuts to student grants made in 2013-14 to be reversed: see here.

The Scottish Government budget news release is headed “Building a fairer country” and says”Mr Swinney is expected to focus on policies which will help to make Scotland a more prosperous country, tackle inequality and protect public services.”

However, the budget document now published offers no additional funding for grants.  It makes a further cut of £4m in the cash budget for “student support and tuition fees”.  The Scottish Government has explained “The change in the student support and tuition fee budget line since the publication of previous spending plans reflects support for child care with an equivalent transfer of funds to SFC for distribution to colleges for HE students with childcare costs. This transfer is reflected in the increased college operational expenditure.” So this is not a real additional cut and the position is in effect a standstill compared to the previous plans.

Taking the £4m out of the 2012-13 baseline for comparability, compared to the position in 2012-13, the year before grants were cut, this represents a real terms cut of £38m or 11%.

2012-13 2015-16 Change
£m £m £m %
Cash 321.9 301.6 -20.3 -6%
At 2014-15 prices 338.8 296.9 -37.8 -11%

With the fee element of the line protected, grants will be taking most of this hit.  Grant spending in 2012-13 accounted for around only one-third of the total spending supported by this budget line.  The real terms cut grant spending over the period is likely to be around one-third also.

Tackling inequality in the sharing of student debt does not appear to be part of what it means to be a fairer country.

NUS Scotland has issued a news release which is stronger on grants than has been the case in past years, stating:

we needed to see increases in funding for bursaries for our poorest students in college and university, and this budget doesn’t do that.

…To make sure we get the most out of our talented people from all backgrounds, we must make sure they have enough money to live on, to make the most of their potential. For further education students in our colleges, that means reform to an outdated system and much needed investment in the support they receive. For students in higher education, we need to see continued increases in support as a whole, and for the poorest students particularly we need to see that through grants rather than loans. For all students, with the cost of living continuing to go up, we need to ensure their financial support students increases annually to match that.

[emphasis added: no link obviously yet available via NUS Scotland website or Twitter, but text as distributed is here NUS Scotland news release 9 Oct 2014]

That NUS enthusiastically and unreservedly welcomed the new arrangements  announced in 2012, which included substantial grant cuts, means its position is less strong here than it would otherwise have been: tens of millions are needed just to make up for the ground lost over the past two years.  But there is an important shift going on here: NUS Scotland did not brief in support of an opposition motion seeking a reversal to grant cuts back in June 2013, for example. The greater priority now being given by NUS to grant is a clear  change of emphasis and should, at some point at least, make it harder for the Scottish Government to continue its current low-grant approach.

The budget document also states that the government will “continue to deliver on our commitment to support the poorest students with a minimum income guarantee of £7,500 per year in maintenance support and to keeping higher education free for Scottish domiciled students”, implying that there will be no increase in the total value of upfront student funding in 2015-16.

Figures in detail

This table compares the figures for the three most relevant lines for student funding with the current year figures and the previous plans for 2015-16, contained in last year’s publication.

Level 3 2014-15 figures 2015-16 previous budget 2015-16 new budget figures
£m £m
Student Support and Tuition Fee Payments ie the combined cost of the SAAS contribution to fee and all non-repayable grants 306 305.5  301.6
Cost of Providing Student Loans (RAB Charge) ie the cost of loan subsidy scored in the cash account 181.6 302.1  302.1
Net Student Loans Advanced ie   the face value of loans issued to students, after taking account of loan repayments from graduates 468.3 468.3  468.3
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