Progressive? How the poorest students suffer from the SNP’s student loans policy

They scrapped tuition fees - but that's not quite the whole story

 

In recent weeks many have questioned the supposed progressive credentials of the ascendant SNP; they are, after all, a nationalist party. But close scrutiny of the SNP’s policies (and they don’t receive a lot of that in the English press) shows they are not as progressive, or as different, as they claim to be.

This is demonstrated today by John McDermott, who writes in the Financial Times about the false rhetoric surrounding the SNP’s flagship policy of scrapping tuition fees for Scottish students. He points out that in many cases the SNP’s 2007 promises – to meet annual loan repayments for existing debts, to re-introduce grants instead of loans and to scrap the graduate endowment fee – were not met.

What’s more, since then the SNP have presided over a system which favours the richest students and leaves the poorest borrowing the most.

McDermott cites research by former civil servant Lucy Hunter Blackburn which shows that Scotland now has the lowest rate of grant in Western Europe. Since the SNP took office in 2007, real-terms spending on income-related student grants in Scotland has almost halved, and as a consequence of this:

“Scotland is the only part of the UK where borrowing is highest among students from poorer backgrounds.”

More than 70 per cent of the poorest students –  those who are eligible for grants – borrow the full student loan amount available: £5,750 a year (£6,750 for mature students). Scottish degrees are four years long, meaning that on average these students are graduating with £23-27,000 of debt.

Below is a graph from Hunter-Blackburn’s research showing how students from lower-income backgrounds are more likely to take out loans. (Note that the ‘Applicants not declaring an income’ category is important as it contains a large proportion of those from higher-income backgrounds who did not submit for a means-tested loan):

graphscottishstudents

(Click to enlarge)

The SNP place a great deal of emphasis on their tuition fees policy. Nicola Sturgeon said last year:

“As a politician now and able to sit here partly because of that free education, I have got no right to pull that ladder of opportunity up behind me.”

But it is clear that tuition fees are only one part of the student finance picture. And that picture, as McDermott points out, “looks very much like the Scottish government has chosen to prioritise investment towards richer students rather than those from poorer backgrounds.”

It’s also important to note that, in isolation, tuition fees do not appear to be particularly discriminatory toward poorer students. The Independent Commission on Fees, established to assess the impact of the fee hike put in place by the coalition, found that “there does not appear to have been any disproportionate drop-off in applications from poorer or less advantaged communities.”

The research found that other indicators had more of an impact on the likelihood of entering higher education after the increase in fees: applications from mature students, for example, fell by 14 per cent, and the gender gap among working class students widened, with a 5.9 per cent decline for girls and a 7.5 per cent decline for boys between 2011 and 2014.

The ICF said that the gender gap reflected “concerns expressed elsewhere about the educational under-performance of working-class boys”. In other words, unfair university access stems from problems of social mobility that are more deeply rooted than tuition fees.

The ICF report found that students from the most advantaged areas were 10 times more likely to go to university than those from the most disadvantaged areas. Worse schools, less parental support and less knowledge of the admissions process are some of the obstacles barring disadvantaged students from attending university.The coalition has exacerbated many of these issues of inequality.

But the SNP should not let themselves off the hook so easily. It is futile of Nicola Sturgeon to continue to talk as though abolishing tuition fees alone can open up the door to a wider student demographic, whilst operating an ungenerous grant policy towards poorer students which will saddle them with unmanageable debts for years after they graduate.

Ruby Stockham is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter

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19 Responses to “Progressive? How the poorest students suffer from the SNP’s student loans policy”

  1. Peem Birrell

    In addition, the SNP Government cut funding for FE colleges bigtime, and used the chaotic mergers programme to help hide the resulting drops in student numbers and opportunity from the electorate. Another aspect of the fee regime which they’ve got away with is that it results in real-terms cuts in funding to Universities in Scotland which can’t attract rUK students in large enough numbers. On the other hand, Edinburgh and St Andrews are laughing all the way to the bank. The Universities don’t complain much about this as they’ve seen what happened to the colleges.

  2. DRbilderburg

    If there’s a snowballs chance in hell of Neocon Jim Murphy getting elected.. in the marginal where i live in the South of England, i will vote for any party other than Labour that stands the slightest chance of overturning them Him and his ilk are a cancer that needs cutting out of the Labour party

  3. Gerschwin

    Too late Labour people…Scotland gawn!

  4. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes yes, keep hating on the union.

  5. Leon Wolfeson

    Of course, people who might be elected who are not far right enough for you…

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    “there does not appear to have been any disproportionate drop-off in applications from poorer or less advantaged communities.”

    Because that’s only looking at the coalition policies. Ask a few Universities – the main damage in terms of deterring poorer students was done when tuition fees were 3.3k under Labour.

    You’re also whining here that making larger loans for living costs available is a bad thing. Which means you’d rather have those students not afford going to University for years – and as you note, mature applications are down and will keep falling.

  7. DRbilderburg

    you’re wasting your time. Murphy is in the wrong party, a cancer that should been removed The man’s pure trash

  8. Joe Bloggs

    I DO wish that you would sod off commenting on everything that anyone writes. Go get a life.

  9. Kryten2k35

    Compared to the English students who were fucked by the Tories and have to pay £9k a year, for 3 years, plus £5k a year maintenance loans? It works out at £42k. I was lucky and got in before 2011 and only pay £3465 a year.

  10. Kryten2k35

    It’s not rUK any more 😉

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    Yes, of course you oppose Jews posting, Lord Blagger.

    And I have a life, I don’t need to steal others.

  12. julian

    I didn’t know I can get my loans discharged, I thought that I was stuck with this debt that I owed the Government. I also didn’t know that they have document prep offices that help put you into these programs to get your loans discharged or forgiven, I got the direct office number from a very helpful customer service rep …. if anyone needs the number its 310-622-9208

  13. julian

    I got the direct office number from a very helpful customer service rep …. if anyone needs the number its 310-622-9208

  14. uglyfatbloke

    Sheer $hite Peem, The SNP government cut college courses in daft things like macramé management, applied whist and crystal therapy. English students could have come to Scottish universities for free if Westminster had agreed to a reciprocal arrangement which was on offer.

  15. uglyfatbloke

    I think Murphy is more than far enough right for anyone.

  16. Peem Birrell

    The SNP minister at the time (Mike Russell) obviously did a good snow job, when some people still believe that. But you know, uglyfatbloke (or rather you don’t), Government can’t cut courses on colleges, they can just cut money, and they certainly did. How the cuts are implemented is up to college management. But then facts aren’t a strong point with SNP are they?

  17. Peem Birrell

    The SNP minister at the time (Mike Russell) obviously did a good snow job, when some people still believe that. But you know, uglyfatbloke (or rather you don’t), Government can’t cut courses on colleges, they can just cut money, and they certainly did. How the cuts are implemented is up to college management. But then facts aren’t a strong point with SNP are they?

  18. Peem Birrell

    The SNP minister at the time (Mike Russell) obviously did a good snow job, when some people still believe that. But you know, uglyfatbloke (or rather you don’t), Government can’t cut courses on colleges, they can just cut money, and they certainly did. How the cuts are implemented is up to college management. But then facts aren’t a strong point with SNP are they?

  19. Anna Willson

    Yes, situation with student loans in our country is very difficult. I think that students just can’t pay more than they pay today. Price for college tuition hold stay the same, otherwise youth will just drown in debt! Attending and studying in college should be much more affordable than it is today. Lots of students don’t know what to do because they have to choose between their future career opportunities and getting in debt. Everything wouldn’t be so bad if all the graduates would have a chance to get employed and work on decent job. But unfortunately, many of young people use quick cash loans near me to make payments on their loans and don’t know anything about their future.

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