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Proud of … what exactly? A Scottish Minister comments on student support

October 8, 2015

A further small example of how difficult is to get those in the Scottish Government to acknowledge its growing reliance on loans to fund students from low incomes.

Commenting today to The Student in this article, the Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, Marco Biagi, said:

We also need to make sure everyone with the potential can take advantage of studying in a world-class environment like the University of Edinburgh. I’m proud of our record on funding students as well as the universities they study at, having met a series of calls from NUS to find more upfront support to help students with their living costs over the past four year – even amidst Westminster’s austerity.

Two points are worth making.

First, note that the comment carefully avoids acknowedging that this upfront support has been provided entirely through extra loan, with grants being cut at the same time.

Second, the reference to “amidst austerity” is a red herring.  Under the Barnett formula, the Scottish Government has been passed a very large amount of student loan funding that it cannot use for anything else and doesn’t need to spend propping up a high fee regime.   In effect, therefore,  the Minister is proud that the Scottish Government has used student loans to … lend money to students (as opposed to not using them at all, presumably). That’s not self-evidently a great achievement, especially as it was accompanied by  changes which put poorer students more heavily into debt, just to keep their support at the same level it was before,  with any increase in support meaning yet more debt on top. That’s a surprising thing to be proud of, in the context of wanting to improve access.

As ever, observers are left wondering how far members of the Scottish Government actually understand what it is they have done.

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