scottish parliament building

Credit: Geograph / Alan Findlay

Grace Michael

A recent campaign launched by the National Union of Students (NUS) has called for an increase in support for students through increased investment in mental health support services, bursaries and student loans in the 2017-18 Scottish government draft budget.

The campaign gained support from the Universities and College Union Scotland, Unison Scotland and the Education Institute of Scotland. Budget for Better was launched on the back of this year’s Independent Student Support Review, where only 13% of students who request financial support claimed their financial support met their needs “very well”, as opposed to 30% who claimed “quite poorly”.

NUS asked that the budget increase the bursaries given to students, alongside calling for “ring-fenced funding” for mental health services in order to establish a universal level of support, and an increase in the threshold for loan repayment, which in Scotland is currently required when students earn over £17,775, much lower than in England which is above £25,000.

Statistics published by the Scottish Liberal Democrats showed that 47,734 Scottish students have used counselling or mental health services at their university in the past five years, suggesting a great need for funding in this sector. In a Freedom of Information request made to the University of Glasgow, it was revealed that the amount of students accessing services within that institution alone has increased by 32% between 2014 and 2017, whereas the amount of staff employed by the services and consequently able to provide such care has only increased from 8 to 12.

The campaign has not been entirely successful in convincing the Scottish government to meet its demands in the draft budget. Although the threshold for student loan repayment has been increased to £22,000, with the maximum repayment period being reduced to 30 years, and an additional £5 million has been pledged for initial implementation of the findings of the Independent Review of Student Support, which found financial support for students to be lacking, it is not clear that this funding increase will be used to increase bursaries, and no money has been ring-fenced for mental health. The final budget is expected to be released around mid-February.

NUS Scotland President Luke Humberstone commented: “While we recognise the financial constraints the Scottish government face, this draft budget is a missed opportunity to fix Scotland’s broken student support system. In higher education, the poorest students are forced to take on the highest debt to meet basic living costs, while further education students have no guarantee of support at all.”

He continued: “The number of students trying to access mental health services is increasing – but provision across college and university campuses is patchy. The level of support you receive shouldn’t depend on where you study, and we’ll continue to call for a universal standard of on-campus counselling and mental health support. This must be addressed as a matter of priority.”