Student Associations

– in the Scottish Parliament on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

6. To ask the Scottish Government what it sees as the key roles of student associations in representing the interests of students at colleges and universities. (S5O-01859)

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

Student associations play a vital role in the learning and lives of college and university students and it is important that students are given the opportunity to express their views on issues of concern to them. In recognition of that, the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 sets out that the membership of the governing body of any higher education institution must include two student members who have been nominated by a student association of that institution.

Students also have representation on boards in the college sector, with the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013 increasing the minimum number of student members on college boards to two. The Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council currently funds the National Union of Students Scotland to support colleges and their student associations to deliver on the key aims and objectives that are set out in the framework for the development of strong and effective college student associations in Scotland.

Photo of Liam McArthur Liam McArthur Liberal Democrat

Last week, I visited Inverness College, where I was hosted by the Highlands and Islands Students Association

, which has enjoyed tremendous success in a relatively short period of time in giving students from across the University of the Highlands and Islands a strong and effective voice. During the discussions with HISA representatives, including the team from Orkney College, concerns were raised about the cost of attending events and meetings, which invariably take place in the central belt.

In the light of the ministers’ comments on the funding that is provided, will she consider whether there are still cost barriers to be overcome in relation to allowing students across the field to play that representative role on behalf of their peer group? Will she also consider ways in which events might be encouraged to take place outwith the central belt, which would benefit those in the Highlands and Islands, the north and indeed the south?

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I am unsure of the detail of the events that Mr McArthur highlights; I am not clear whether he is talking about Scottish Government, funding council or NUS events. However, from the point of view of the Scottish Government and the funding council, I am happy to take on board the suggestion that we consider those issues when we are collaborating with students from across the country, and that we need to think about using digital technology where that is appropriate. I will encourage others to take those points on board, too.

It is important that UHI students can collaborate and share their experiences with others. I have had quite a few dealings with the students at various UHI campuses and I have seen how well they work together. However, given the unique nature of UHI, they undoubtedly also face certain challenges.

I hope that Mr McArthur will be assured that the Scottish funding council is receiving feedback from associations—indeed, it received that last year—about the positive impact that college student associations are making. We have an on-going commitment to ensure that we share best practice as that goes along, and if that is not happening, the funding council will work with the college and the students to ensure that it does happen. If there are specific issues that the member would like me to look into further, I will be happy to do that.