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The Scottish Further Education Funding Council and the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council have, in the context of the Executive's commitment to widening access, a range of measures in place to increase participation in further and higher education by under-represented groups. This year, the councils have made a total of £20.5 million available for that purpose. There are also a number of local initiatives in schools to support the widening access agenda, and I know that the Lothian equal access programmes for schools will be of interest to Rhona Brankin.
The minister is aware of my concerns about the low percentage of young people in my constituency who go to university from school. Is he aware that other former coal-mining areas in Scotland share those low participation rates, and will he agree to meet me and representatives of the Coalfield Communities Campaign to discuss how we can ensure that more young people from former coal-mining constituencies can benefit from a university education?
I am certainly anxious that not only young people from former coal-mining communities but those from other parts of Scotland and from other groups that have traditionally been under-represented in further and higher education should be encouraged to come into further and higher education. I shall certainly take further with Rhona Brankin the specific proposals that she has mentioned with regard to a meeting.
I also want to underline our commitment, which is reinforced by the educational maintenance allowances, to allowing young people beyond school-leaving age to stay on at school in circumstances in which there might in the past have been a financial handicap or disincentive to doing so. Our whole package of student support—from the tuition fees paid by the Executive for Scotland-domiciled students going into Scottish higher education to the support that is made available in bursaries—is there to help those from groups that have traditionally not had a high level of involvement in higher education. I will certainly follow up the specific proposals that Rhona Brankin makes.