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University Students (Grants)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th November 2013.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

6. To ask the Deputy First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is on the Student Awards Agency for Scotland’s finding that the level of grants paid to university students from the poorest backgrounds has fallen by 3 per cent. (S4F-01654)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

We have put in place a package of measures to guarantee a minimum income of at least £7,250 for all lower-income students. Last month, Mike Russell announced that, from next year, that minimum income guarantee will rise by another £250.

The SAAS figures that were published on 29 October show that, in 2012-13, which was the year before the minimum income guarantee came into force, there was a small drop in the number of students from low-income backgrounds who received one element of student support—the bursary element—but they also showed that, overall, the number of students from low-income backgrounds of below £20,000 who received support was static, at just over 25,000. I must say, of course, that not a single one of those students faces the massive bills of up to £27,000 that are imposed on students by Conservatives south of the border.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

Not only are grants to the poorest students in Scotland falling; the participation in higher education in England of those from the most deprived groups is consistently higher than it is in Scotland. In England, that participation is actually on the increase. Will the Deputy First Minister now accept, in light of that incontrovertible evidence on the oft-repeated mantra from her party colleagues, that student or graduate fees are not deterring those from less well-off backgrounds in England from accessing universities, as its record is better than ours?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Any Tory who comes to the chamber and tries to lecture us on access to university education really does have a brass neck, given the tuition fees south of the border.

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Let me give Murdo Fraser two statistics that will perhaps slightly change the picture that he tried to paint. Eighteen-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in Scotland are 60 per cent more likely to apply to university under this Government. The minimum income guarantee that I spoke about earlier has been described by the National Union Students Scotland—not by any of us—as

“the best support package in the whole of the UK”.

We are doing it the right way in Scotland.

Can we do it better? We can always do things better, but I will never take lessons from Conservatives about how to get more people into university.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. You said that a good number of back benchers were interested in putting questions on and debating the position of the shipyards. I was elected to represent Govan 40 years ago today. The trouble then was the shortage of orders after the current ships were in the slips. The problem is therefore old. Many folk know about it, and we could have a constructive debate in the Parliament about where we will go in the future.

The Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms MacDonald. As I said to you before First Minister’s question time, a number of back benchers wanted to speak. I gave almost 25 minutes to the subject, which reflected its importance. I regret that the back benchers did not get in, but I am sure that, if you want a debate on the matter next week, you will speak to your business manager to raise the issue at the Parliamentary Bureau.