Higher Education

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

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Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 2:39 pm, 13th June 2007

I thank the cabinet secretary for the statement and the advance notice of it.

The Liberal Democrats welcome the opportunity to work with the minority Government to end the graduate endowment, as a move towards reducing student debt. I also welcome the clarity—perhaps for the first time—that not one penny of the graduate endowment has ever contributed to student tuition fees in Scotland. That is helpful confirmation of the reality.

However, students and graduates have not heard clarity from the cabinet secretary about whether the sums raised from the graduate endowment will continue to contribute to the funding for poorer students, not just in the next year but in every year of this parliamentary session and subsequently. Will she confirm whether that is the case? Will she honour another SNP manifesto commitment to remove the burden of debt? I did not hear a clear answer to the question from Mr Henry on whether all previous payments of the graduate endowment will be written off by the SNP Government. Will she confirm that?

Does the cabinet secretary accept that the statement, in isolation, has no net benefit for current students? The Liberal Democrats will work constructively, but we will not support any moves that are uncosted or which provide no net benefit for existing students.

Finally, I have two specific questions. First, has the cabinet secretary, on behalf of her department, formally made a submission to prioritise higher education funding in the comprehensive spending review? If not, why not? Secondly, what information does the cabinet secretary have that has led this new Government, in the period of one month, to downgrade from its manifesto commitment to

"remove the burden of debt repayments owed by Scottish domiciled and resident graduates" to today's statement, in which she said that the Government proposed to relieve the burden of debt repayments by Scottish students? Does "relieving the debt burden" mean removing it in its entirety?