Yesterday in Westminster, SNP MPs took part in the debate over the UK Government’s plans to abolish student maintenance grants in England and Wales. This policy stands in stark contrast to the SNP’s in Government in Scotland – we remain committed to providing bursaries and grants as part of the best support package for students in the UK.
The SNP will always protect free education because we believe it is one of the most important things a government can ever protect. We place a huge amount of value on the education of our young people, and we will ensure that the Scottish system is open to all. That is why we united with other opposition parties in opposing this Tory government’s damaging education policy.
The SNP Scottish Government abolished tuition fees and we remain committed to the principle of higher education based on a person’s ability to learn and not their ability to pay. We have also protected the Educational Maintenance Allowance to ensure young people from low income families can afford to stay on at school and study in college.
This stands in stark contrast to what we are seeing in England and Wales. The Tory government continues to attack education: making life harder and harder for students by imposing up to £9,000 a year university tuition fees, scrapping Educational Maintenance Allowance and now abolishing grants for some of the poorest students.
The UK Government is also abolishing nurses’ bursaries and cutting Disabled Students’ Allowance. In contrast the SNP Scottish Government has committed to protecting this support in this year’s budget.
Rather than seeing free education and student grants as an investment in the future, George Osborne sees them as an opportunity for more cuts. And, the more they cut spending on students and higher education in England, the more pressure they put on Scotland’s education budget.
Some Tory MPs have even described grants as “free money” but this is quite wrong. They are paid back in so many ways. The grant I received when I was a student was paid back over my 20 years’ service as a physics teacher. The bursaries provided to student nurses are paid back when they provide hours and hours of vital care for our NHS every day. Support for our students is an investment in the future workforce and in our national prosperity.
In Scotland, we have a student support system that balances bursaries and loans. Our approach to higher education in Scotland means that average student loan debt in Scotland is the lowest in the UK. And, our institutions continue to flourish. We now have five Scottish universities in the top 200 in the latest Times Higher Education World global league table.
We in the SNP stand by our principle of education being based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay, in Scotland and the rest of the UK. That is why SNP MPs will continue to stand in solidarity with students in England and Wales in opposing any and all attempts by this Tory Government to remove financial help from students and by doing so put further pressure on the Scottish budget.