Opinion: Liberal Youth Scotland campaigns against SNP cuts to student bursary cuts and college places

Student finance. Mention those two words to most students and you’ll either get people moaning about the amount of forms they have to fill in, or excited about how rich they are at the beginning of the month.

However, at the end of the day, you have to pay it back. Unless you vote SNP. That was the message they gave graduates in 2007. Strangely enough, I still seem to have a student loan and quite a substantial amount of money to pay back. They knew they couldn’t afford it and scrapped the pledge in their first budget. It was a token promise that would have done nothing for current students, or help social mobility in any way. It’s also evidence that the SNP’s pro-education image doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

If we look past the headline policy of no tuition fees, Student Award Agency for Scotland (SAAS) funding is another example of how the SNP are failing students. This year the maximum amount of student loan for living cost support you can receive is £7,250. The loans are means tested, and previously the richest students would only receive £900 in student loan. This year, the richest students can claim £4,500 a year in student loan. This does not help social mobility in any way – its greater expenditure on the students who need it the least. True, there has also been an increase in the amount of money available to poorer students. Crucially, however, a greater proportion of that money is now repayable due to cuts in bursaries, burdening the poorer students with additional debt.

It is important to remember that education is about more than universities. Scotland’s Further Education colleges are suffering from SNP budget cuts. More than 80,000 part time places have been lost in the last 3 years. Colleges are so incredibly important for social mobility, helping give young people the chance to learn the skills they need to get a good job. The Liberal Democrats have consistently made the case for protecting part-time places and college funding, to give those who work the chance to study. The SNP’s record on student support is one of the opposition stopping them from doing their worst, while they hide behind a headline pledge of no tuition fees. The image they have of themselves as the party that supports students does not ring true at all.

That’s why Liberal Youth Scotland is running a campaign to raise awareness of how the SNP are failing students. Their record on student funding is not as rosy as they would have you believe, and it is the Liberal Democrats who have been fighting to protect college funding in Scottish budget negotiations. Just last week Liam McArthur stood up for the students like me that you never hear anyone else talking about. The poorest students who have been given a bursary cut and saddled with more loan debt. Telling us that it’s all OK because we don’t have to pay tuition fees is  frankly insulting, as is blaming Westminster for the spending decisions they have chosen to make. It’s time for those who seek to break up the UK to take some responsibility for the effects of the decisions they can already take.

* Hannah Bettsworth is a member of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats Council for Europe, and the Liberal Democrat Federal International Relations Committee. Outside of politics, she works in European affairs consultancy on health policy.

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