Campaigners win battle for student support

Students across the country were thrilled with the success of the campaign.


Andy Alston, Editor

Student campaigners from across the country have united to successfully reverse the SNP’s decision over their proposed cuts of more than 20% to college funding over the next three years.

The Our Future Our Fight campaign was set up to protect students from the impact of devastating cuts to colleges by lobbying principals and MSPs to protect student support, places, quality and local access.

The campaigners met with Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to voice their concerns over student support and to highlight the difficulties that students across the country are facing in this tough economic climate. Sturgeon was quick to reassure students that the Scottish Government was doing all it can to support students facing financial difficulty.

She said: “We have tried and will continue to try to find the money to ensure that student support is at adequate levels. We’re dealing with budgets that are shrinking right across the board and that makes it harder and harder to try to make sure that absolutely everything is getting the support that you would want it to have.

“The budgets have gone up but the need has also gone up. The economic conditions that we are living in, which are affecting absolutely everybody, means that the need that people have is acute. We’ve taken steps previously to improve student support and we will continue to do so as much as we possibly can.”

Emma Iwanow, President of City of Glasgow College Students’ Association, was quick to condemn the proposals, saying: “The Scottish Government’s proposed cuts to student support must be reversed in order to help our students continue their studies and to avoid unemployment. Over 63,000 emails, including over 25,000 from the Glasgow area alone, have been sent to MSPs from students, staff and members of the community asking the Parliament to protect colleges and fight cuts to college student support.

“This was the biggest campaign our students have ever taken part in and demonstrates just how strongly they feel about a cut to their bursary support.”

Many students are facing unprecedented cuts to their support in a time of financial difficulty for families across the country. There is a real concern among students that if the cuts were implemented then it could have had serious consequences for those in education. Robin Parker, President of NUS Scotland, added: “College bursaries are a vital lifeline for tens of thousands of students across Scotland. Cuts to college student support are therefore cuts to some of the poorest people in the poorest communities in Scotland.”

Opposition parties were also been quick to criticise the SNP’s decision to reduce the budget, with Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson commenting: “We are deeply concerned about the recent cuts to the Further Education budget. On top of the £10 million cuts last year, college funding will be cut by £74 million over the course of this parliamentary session, with the capital budget also seeing significant reductions. These decisions have resulted in 1000 job losses in 2011, with the potential for further redundancies in the very near future.”

Sturgeon has hinted that more college mergers could be on the cards in the near future as colleges face a growing number of drop outs among students. She said: “We’ve said that there has to be some degree of change and efficiency within the college sector in order to make that possible and the colleges are engaging with that agenda. There are parts of the country where it will be better to try and rationalise that provision in order to protect things that matter which are numbers, places and the support we’re giving to students.”

Although as a consequence of the reduced budget, there is a real fear among the student population that youngsters will not be able to further their journey in education if cuts to vital access courses are implemented. Evening and weekend classes are also at risk of closure due to a lack of funds and students are looking for guarantees to ensure that they will be able to improve their prospects for the future.

Parker, the leader of a confederation of student associations that represents over 500,000 students across Scotland, added: “We risk a youth unemployment merry-go-round with college cuts undermining the government’s own efforts to tackle youth unemployment with young people not having the financial support to study, but at the same time not having the skills for work.”

The impact of the SNP’s proposed cuts could have had disastrous consequences for students throughout the country with many unable to study and without any future in further education. Students living in some of the poorest areas in the country would have had no chance to better themselves and would be consigned to a life constrained by their inability to afford an education rather than their determination to learn and succeed. While the war is certainly not over, students have won a valuable battle in the fight to maintain student support across Scotland.

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