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2015 grant and loan rates for Scotland: when and how will we know?

October 23, 2014

We must be due soon an announcement of the higher education grant and loan rates for 2015-16.

The Scottish Government has taken a pretty experimental approach to this essential bit of public information in the past 2 years.

In 2012, it didn’t announce the new grant and loan rates at all, limiting itself to a press release in August highlighting the highest possible new combined value of the two,  sharing the detail (including large grant cuts) with NUS Scotland  but not the Scottish Parliament, on the same day and then putting out the numbers publicly only when the SAAS website was updated, without publicity, sometime later. This last wasn’t picked up more widely until October.

Last year, the figures were announced, but in stages. So extra spending power was highlighted in a party conference speech on 20 October, with a separate government news release on the same day confirming the increase would all be achieved through extra loan.  The actual grant and loan figures were only made available over a week later, somewhat eccentrically as part of the  “notes to editors” below the annual release of historic statistics on student support. See here.

Might this year see the return to issuing the figures  clearly all at one go? With the budget document referring only to “continuing to deliver on our commitment to support the poorest students with a minimum income guarantee of £7,500”, the same figure as applies this year, and no increase in the budgeted amounts for for loans or grants, there doesn’t seem to be much scope for good news, beyond re-heating last year’s party conference headline of extending living cost loans to up to 5,000 postgraduates from 2015.   Managing to make that the dominant student support headline in Scotland for two years running would require a bravura piece of news management. In any event,   the 2015-16 undergraduate student support package doesn’t look a strong candidate for a major role in a party conference speech next month, unless some additional money has been found at the last minute.

The student support statistics for 2013-14 are out next Tuesday, so attaching any announcement to those again, or at least issuing next year’s figures alongside, is a possibility.  Next week’s statistics will have to record a sharp rise in borrowing (we know this from those already released by the SLC, though next week’s data has potential to report a larger rise again) and must also be due to show a substantial fall in total spending on means-tested grants, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see standstill student support figures put out the same day, getting all the bad, or at least not especially good, news out in one go.

That said, the annual statistics do have potential to generate at least one upbeat story which might make a better headline for the government. “Record numbers receiving help/grant/free tuition” is one obvious possibility.  Along with any general growth, the relaxing of the previous study rules  – under the new “plus one” arrangements – means that some students  can now claim an extra year of grant and  fee support (they could already borrow).  Including EU students would also boost  the reported year-on-year increase.  It will be a test of how automatically the media simply picks up the headlines in the Scottish government news release (a real issue in this area in recent years) if a bit more generosity round repeat years for a few thousand students, however welcome this is, distracts from the first hard evidence we will have of the effects on the 50,000 lowest income students in Scotland of the large shift away from grant towards loans.

Going back to the 2015-16 grant and loan figures,  however desirable a clearly-titled press notice might be, regular checks over the next month of the footnotes to releases on other announcements and of the SAAS website remain for now the only completely sure way of spotting the release of financial information directly relevant to some 100,000 Scots, including those making decisions right now about university applications.

It’s an odd world when something as simple as a commitment to releasing all next year’s student support figures in one go, in an obvious press notice, would represent substantial improvement on where we are.

 

 

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