Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:39 pm on 13th June 2007.

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Photo of Hugh Henry Hugh Henry Labour 2:39 pm, 13th June 2007

We should not be surprised that old habits die so hard.

As I said, there was no talk of the SNP waiting for a spending review—even though the party was warned that its proposals were unworkable and unaffordable. Last year, Alex Salmond promised to scrap the outstanding student loan debt for current graduates. Today, yet again, it is mibbes aye, mibbes no.

The minister's statement is not a first step; it is a fig leaf to cover the embarrassment of a U-turn, a con trick or both. Graduate endowments were set up to provide income to help poorer students. Where will the money come from now? The minister's proposal, despite the verbiage, does not spell out how young people from poorer backgrounds will be helped to gain access to university. Will Fiona Hyslop write to me with details of how that will be done? The minister's proposal claims that all students will be helped equally, irrespective of their financial circumstances, but the statement says nothing about recompensing those who have already paid the endowment. Will that happen?

I am dubious about the SNP's figures. All the evidence that I have seen—before the election and since—gives an estimated annual cost of between £20 million and £25 million. If the SNP Administration has money to spare, why does it not add a few million pounds, defer its proposal for two to three years, and create 1,000 jobs in August for teachers who are coming to the end of their probationary period? That would surely provide a more immediate and more beneficial impact for Scottish education.

The statement was profoundly disappointing. It badly lets down the many people in Scotland who took at face value promises that the rest of us know to be false.