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Student support review #3: further issues – a run through/aide memoire

November 21, 2017

There are a few other issues which stand out as deserving more attention, in no particular order.

The benefits of the new flat rate entitlement to  those just above to grant cut off, where family contributions are currently high relative to income, and to those at higher incomes whose parents cannot or will not support them, as long as they are willing to borrow.

The movement of FE bursaries onto an entitlement basis – a generally good thing, although the report’s references to increased interaction with the benefit system may hint at why this has not been done before. It’s not clear if this needs legislation.

The extension of loans to FE as an issue of principle: that raises some interesting questions. The ground has been partly broken by FE fee loans in England.  The report doesn’t mention whether the review looked into any potential for lessons from that. I think this might need legislation: the report does not address that point.

The review’s claims that loans terms here are and will be superior to those in other parts of the UK: one of these is wrong, others don’t have the supporting analysis that appears to be required required to back them up (more on that to follow). Generally, from the repeated references to it at the launch, the fact of lower interest rates in Scotland than England and Wales (though not Northern Ireland) seem to loom large in the review’s worldview. At the launch, it was implied that the proposals in the report go beyond the existing SNP manifesto commitment to improve loan repayment terms: I don’t immediately see that, beyond a gentle nudge to consider following the English and Welsh rise to a £25,000 repayment threshold, but need to check again.

The review’s discussion of attitudes towards loans. It suggests a negative press for loans is more of an issue in other parts of the UK. But Scottish government ministers are extensively on record themselves talking in very negative terms about loans, where they are used for fees, without any apparent concern about how that might affect attitudes to borrowing here for living costs, and the SG has not actively promoted loans as a funding source in Scotland, despite promises to the parliament during the autumn 2012 that it would do so.  However negative the media, there’s been quite strong official promotion of loans in other parts of the UK, by contrast, for obvious reasons.

The further discussion at the launch about the basis for a more general claim of the recommended system being best in the UK: a short post on that will follow.

The suggestion student support should be calculated only to cover 25 hours a week of study for full-time students, to allow up to 10 hours of paid employment within a 35 hour week: that compares to 35 hours  assumed in Diamond. The views of university and college teachers on this would be interesting.

The lack of any discussion of the fall in numbers taking a grant in recent years, the possible reasons for that and its implications for a Scottish funding model: that’s very disappointing.

The review’s recommendations about the relationship between benefits and student finance. The report shows that for reasons that are not at all clear, Scotland is the only part of the UK which has not adopted a way of labelling/packaging support to reduce its impact on benefits. The review makes recommendations it hopes will more than catch that position up: but it appears to suggest that for quite a few years Scottish policy has failed to spot a relatively simple way to provide practical help to at least some student on benefits. That’s quite a finding, if I am reading it right.

The general evidence base and presentation of supporting figures in the report: on a first read, it feels much thinner than others on this general theme here and elsewhere in the UK over the past two decades. There’s more to say on that, and the resourcing of the review, probably.

There are various recommendation about system administration and information, which look sensible, particularly for a large improvement in on-line resources. They are probably more for others to comment on.

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