Monday, 10 August 2009

Are Student's Education Worth the Plastic They Are Being Paid With?

Must of my adult life I've been fighting the onslaught of student debt, from the dying years of Thatcher who had taken our milk as kids, to our student days when she wanted to also take away our grants and loan us money to pay for our living whilst were studying. Since then of course it is not just the living expenses that students have paid for but tuition as well since.

We're suppose to be living under a Government that is going to end student debt but today's report from the National Union of Students Scotland shows that there is a long way yet to go. It shows that 56 percent are relying on expensive commercial debt to try and get through their studies supplementing their full uptake of their student loan. Indeed they are more likely than other groups to be indebted at commercial rates.

Also that over 70% are in paid employment for more than the recommended ten hours a week to make ends meet. Two thirds also rely on handouts from friends and families. In total 88 percent of our students are in some kind of indebtedness, many of them a mixture of student loan, commercial and family or friends.

The report points out that the current financial situation is greatly affecting students:

"The current economic recession has hit students in a big way.

"The fundamentally flawed assumptions our student support system is based on, namely that students will be able to secure part-time work during term time, a job during the summer vacation and will receive parental support throughout, will be seriously tested this academic year, and we are positive that no-one will like the results."

So what can be done? The NUS study have suggested some proposals.

In the short term they are looking for the minimum loan to be increased to all students and more cash to be made available to the poorest students in a mix of loans and grants to prevent them slipping into poverty or being forced to drop out.

In the longer term, NUS Scotland wants a minimum income of £7,000 and the loan to be gradually decreased as grants are increased to reduce student debt. The minimum income guarantee has already been backed by both the Lib Dems and Labour. Indeed LYS moved the motion that secured the Scottish Liberal Democrat's support at Autumn conference.

As Liam Burns , NUS Scotland president, points out the aim isn't to totally get to the stage I was at as a student at the end of the more fortunate 80s and early 90s (though my grant was never that big) when he said:

"Simply moving from loans to grants is not what is needed.

"Far worse is the social injustice that would be reinforced if commercial debt is not dealt with, as poorer students are more afraid of commercial debt than those of a luckier background."

The NUS are looking out for those less able to look out for themselves, over to Fiona Hyslop to see what action the SNP can and will take to help work this terrible problem out.

1 comment:

  1. There is another aspect to this which I'm personally familiar with - the graduate funding problem. While it is my understanding that as a swollen generalisation securing funding in the sciences is relatively doable, its a tooth and nail scrabble for those of us more Arts, Humanities, Economic or Socially inclined.

    I know various outstanding folk who simply couldn't get near the PhD they wanted to do because of this mean (and shrinking) distribution of our education budgets. Obviously, while it is not inherent that expanded undergraduate education would have a correlative impact on graduate-level funding - there are choices involved.

    Thus, while I have some sympathy with a broader and more generous aim for funding undergraduates, putting more cultural investment into the life of the mind - as the Scottish Government is somewhat at the moment, through various studentships to explore particular designated issues - would be more of a priority for me.