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SAAS support 2015-16: sit rep

February 20, 2015

The viewing statistics for this site strongly suggest that the numbers searching for information on next year’s SAAS figures are growing: posts with titles to do with SAAS plans for next year are rising quickly up the table.

As previous posts have pointed out, these figures are now very late: the absence of complaint from NUS Scotland in turn implies that that there may be continuing negotiations going on.

What might be holding things up? The budget passed earlier this month gave no indication of additional funds for student support. With no provision in the plans for extra cash between this year and next year, there is not at first sight much scope for increase in grant next year (although the £21 million it was recently revealed had been held back from the funds for universities might be a straw in the wind).  There may be more headroom on loans, though increases there would  require the government to be willing to be more upfront about the scale of its reliance on these.  As this post argued, there’s a case for doing something to provide more to those at just over £34,000, whether as loan or grant, as well as a case for restoring in whole or part the large grant cuts of 2013-14, to deal with Scotland’s  uniquely regressive pattern of student borrowing.

Within grants, something could usefully be done urgently to increase what’s available to those coming out of care: it seems particularly unfair to expect this group to borrow almost all their living costs.  The numbers of such students are small – itself a cause for concern – so the cost of giving them a decent grant (or more discreetly and cheaply, a debt write-off?) would be low.

NUS Scotland, as well as the Liberal Democrats, have lately argued for an increase in the repayment threshold: that might still be on the cards.

A more spectacular deal would do something about the status of FE student support, which remains discretionary, unlike that for students in full-time higher education.  Again, however, the budget doesn’t look helpful here, unless (again) loans are coming in to the frame.

The First Minister recently announced that there were to be a series of announcements around education and tackling disadvantage, so some extra investment in student support for the poorest can’t be ruled out. The problem, as ever, is that there’s not much cash: most of the government’s non-loan spending on student support is tied up in fees and therefore untouchable.  Even £21 million can only go so far.

For readers looking for hard information, it remains a case of watch this space – but surely not for much longer?

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