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They can’t believe it’s not better: backbenchers invent the £19,000 grant

May 24, 2015

A Liberal Democrat press release last week (see here LD press notice 21 May 2015) drew attention to a parliamentary motion put down by the Convenor of the Parliament’s Finance Committee, who is a member of the governing party in Scotland.

This said (as at 24/5/15):

Motion S4M-13230: Kenneth Gibson, Cunninghame North, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 20/05/2015

Boost to Bursaries

That the Parliament welcomes the decision by the Scottish Government to increase student bursaries from £17,000 to £19,000 for households earning under £24,000; understands that this move has been warmly welcomed by NUS Scotland, whose president, Vonnie Sandlin, stated that the “announcement is a strong recognition of the importance of student support to improving fair access and a step forward in boosting the amount of money the poorest students have”, and believes that the Scottish Government’s decision is a positive step toward tackling educational inequality and in keeping with the proud Scottish tradition that education should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

Supported by: Adam Ingram, Stuart McMillan, Joan McAlpine, Graeme Dey, Christina McKelvie, Jean Urquhart, John Mason, David Torrance, Dennis Robertson, Bruce Crawford, Chic Brodie, Colin Beattie, Bill Kidd, Roderick Campbell, Stewart Maxwell, John Wilson, Rob Gibson, Mike MacKenzie, Nigel Don, Richard Lyle, Kevin Stewart, Angus MacDonald

One signatory (Stewart Maxwell) is Convenor of the Parliament’s Education Committee.  The remaining signatories are mostly SNP backbenchers, other than one former SNP member now sitting as independent (Jean Urquhart).  At least two (McAlpine and Urquhart) have lately been members of the Education Committee.

A £19,000 grant would leapfrog Scotland from  bumping along the bottom of the European grant table into the global super-league, beating even Liechtenstein’s EU12,340.

But of course grant in Scotland is not going to be £19,000.  It is rising from £1,750 to £1,825.  The increase from £17,000 to £19,000 relates to  the income threshold for the maximum grant entitlement, restoring (almost) a cut from £19,130 to £17,000 two years ago by the present government – welcome, certainly, but in the way that it’s welcome when someone stops standing on your toe.

People make mistakes.  But it’s a certainty every single person  involved in preparing and signing this motion could say straight away what the three year cost of the maximum fee charge is in England (£27,000).  But not one – not one –  of the 23 MSPs involved (or those acting on their behalves) looked at this text and spotted that the numbers were way out.  That includes the convenors of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance and Education Committees.  A group for whom fees could hardly be a more totemistic issue reveals a markedly superficial level of engagement with the detail of student funding.

The Lib Dems drew attention to the parliamentary motion on Thursday evening.  This weekend, it remains on the Parliament site: the last two signatories above have added themselves since the version recorded in the press notice.  If it remains unamended and un-withdrawn by its sponsors, and perhaps even still acquiring signatories, it will be a fascinating example of something other than a commitment to accuracy. It will though reflect better on the Parliament if  the motion’s sponsors take a lead from the Cabinet Secretary, who this week corrected a statement that bursaries had not been cut.

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