The Scottish government’s Draft Budget for 2018 has ignored calls for an £8,100 Minimum Student Income, despite this being recommended in a recent independent review.
A new Minimum Student Income, which would provide parity to all Scottish students, would form part of a package of reforms costing an additional £16m per year and increasing the notional cost of student loans by £231m per year.
The guaranteed income would comprise of a mixture of loans and greater means-tested bursaries. It was calculated using the Scottish Living Wage of £8.45 multiplied by 25 hours of study time per week over 38 weeks.
Instead, the Scottish government has opted to provide more support for graduates as outlined in the review and previously in their manifesto promise, including an increase in the student loan repayment threshold to £22,000 by the end of Parliament and a reduction in the maximum repayment period to 30 years.
The decision to invest in graduate rather than undergraduate welfare comes despite Scottish higher education institutions being notorious for having the highest drop-out rate across the UK, with the highest rates at Scottish universities that traditionally recruit from more disadvantaged backgrounds.
A YouGov study conducted by independent reviewers found that 40% of students felt that financial support did not meet their needs, while 70% of students had to supplement the financial support that they received. 14% of students in this second group used credit cards or other loans, including payday loans, to supplement their income, with those in the lowest household income brackets found to be most likely to supplement their income in this way.
The campaign “Budget for Better” was organised in response to the Independent Student Support Review by the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland. Trade Unions representing staff and students across Scotland’s universities, including the Universities and College Union (UCU) Scotland, the Education Institute of Scotland (EIS), and Unison Scotland have united to endorse increased support for students.
NUS Scotland president Luke Humberstone initially welcomed the results of the independent report: “Whether you’re studying at college or university, the cost of living doesn’t change and neither should the level of student support available.”
The £5m pledged for the initial implementation of policies based on the report’s findings is, according to Humberstone, a “positive start”. However, crucially, the budget was a “missed opportunity to fix Scotland’s broken student support system”.