Student Support (Further Education)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 2 December 2015.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

16. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the president of the National Union of Students Scotland’s evidence to the Education and Culture Committee that further education student support in Scotland is “not fit for purpose”. (S4O-04889)

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

We have increased the student support budget by 29 per cent in real terms since 2006-07. Support is now at a record high of more than £105 million in college bursaries and childcare and discretionary funds. In 2016-17, we are removing the variance rule to ensure that all eligible students who are awarded a bursary are paid at the full rate. That addresses one of NUS Scotland’s key concerns. However, we note the Education and Culture Committee’s review of student support; it makes sense to see the committee’s conclusions before we decide on the next steps.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

Every year, colleges are underfunded for bursaries and the Government has to provide additional funds during the year. Will the minister commit to fully fund student support in this year’s budget right from the start?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

As the member might be aware, as she represents Lothian, over this Government’s term of office, in cash terms, the student support funds that are available to, for example, Edinburgh College have increased by 66 per cent, and the cash-terms increase to West Lothian College has been 112 per cent. We always act to put the interests of students first and have made serious commitments to student support in the FE sector.

The member is right to acknowledge that, at this time every year, we conduct an in-year redistribution process. That is on-going at the moment. However, as is the case every year, the Government is working hard with Colleges Scotland and the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council to plug any gaps that exist.

Looking to the future, we recognise that, although some of the solutions that we have adopted to date are fine for now, we want to address student support in the longer term and ensure that it is more sustainable. We will do that as part of the 2016-17 budget discussions.

Photo of Chic Brodie Chic Brodie Scottish National Party

Could the cabinet secretary outline what outcomes this SNP Scottish Government has delivered for college students?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please be brief, cabinet secretary.

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

The college reform programme has been of great benefit to students. For example, the average number hours of learning per student has increased by 59 per cent, and 14,000 more students are successfully completing full-time courses leading to recognised qualifications. I firmly believe that our focus on skills for learning and skills for work that meet the needs of the local economy is the right approach.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

In her evidence, the president of NUS Scotland also pointed out that the Government’s extension of eligibility for the education maintenance allowance meant that some FE students would receive only £30 per week, whereas previously they would have received £90 per week in a bursary. Does the cabinet secretary agree that that is perverse, and will she correct it?

Photo of Angela Constance Angela Constance Scottish National Party

I am taking that piece of evidence very seriously. At present, colleges have the discretion to offer an EMA payment or a college bursary. I expect colleges to be making the right decisions for every young person, particularly those young people who are parents themselves, estranged from their own parents or in receipt of welfare benefits. It is important to remember that the substantial majority of young people in college receive the higher, bursary rate as opposed to the EMA, but I will nonetheless be looking at the matter carefully and looking at all the evidence that is presented to the Education and Culture Committee’s review of student support. We have always acted in the best interests of students and made improvements where we can. Nothing is going to change that for the future, and we will continue to look for further improvements, in partnership with NUS Scotland.