Student Finance - What Do You Think?
UNISON Scotland Response
UNISON Scotland welcomes the opportunity to respond to the consultation
paper Student Finance What do you think?
UNISON Scotland is a major education union having thousands of
members employed in higher and further education institutions.
But our members do not just work in higher and further education.
Many of our 150,000 members in Scotland are students themselves,
in both a full time and part time basis, studying for professional
or vocational qualifications.
Student Support for Living Costs
UNISON supports the equal treatment of all students in higher
or further education, full time or part time, in continuous or discontinuous
The present system of support is weighted in favour of higher education
and towards students from better off backgrounds. This emphasis
must change. Opportunities need to be made available to the many
not the few.
The system of support needs to minimise the real and perceived
barriers to higher and further education.
UNISON members working in higher and further education encounter
the reality of student poverty every day. The biggest problem for
students is their day to day living.
Not all students can rely on support from their parents, guardians,
partners and the present student loan awards are insufficient to
cover living expenses.
UNISON supports the re-introduction of a living maintenance grant
for all over 16 in education and training - as a means of tackling
student poverty. The grant should provide for accommodation, travelling,
food, books and equipment.
We are also seeking a restoration of income support and housing
benefit entitlement to students, particularly during vacations.
We are aware that not all institutions now provide subsidised accommodation
and we would encourage the Independent Committee to consider this
issue in their review.
Student Contribution Towards Tuition
UNISON is committed to a fully-funded, comprehensive, quality,
lifelong education system encompassing all sectors, including further
and higher education and distance learning.
UNISON believes that education should be free at the point of use.
UNISON is concerned that the present system deters people from low
income backgrounds and mature students from entering higher and
The statistic that 80% of higher education students come from average/above
average backgrounds and only 9% from low income backgrounds is a
damning one and highlights the failure of both present and past
systems of support to students.
In the run up to the Scottish Parliament elections UNISON commissioned
from MORI an opinion poll on this issue and found that 65% of those
surveyed opposed the Government's policy on tuition fees and
that 41% supported a grant based system and 51% a combination of
grants and loans. Only 5% supported a loans based system.
UNISON recommends the abolition of tuition fees and believes that
education should be funded out of a progressive tax system, not
by students who are often unable to pay.
If tuition fees are to remain we believe that additional measures
will need to be taken to protect students from disadvantaged backgrounds
for example by substantially raising the threshold after
which students are liable for fees.
Quality and Standards
UNISON fully appreciates the link between funding and quality in
higher and further education and has made numerous representations
to Government in recent years expressing concern that the rapid
increase in student numbers has not been matched with increase in
funding to institutions.
We believe there is a crisis in funding in higher and further education
which urgently needs to be addressed.
We believe that any reduction in fee income that results from their
abolition should be met from general government reserves.
Access to Lifelong Learning
We believe that any system of student support should be geared
towards widening access to higher and further education with
particular focus of encouraging greater take up of opportunities
from people from low income households, mature students, manual
workers, disabled people, black people, women returning to the labour
market after having children etc.
We believe the principle barrier to higher and further education
for these groups is the lack of financial support.
Many UNISON members wish to take up opportunities for lifelong
and distance learning but are unable to afford to do so. Neither
discounted loans nor grants are made available to them. We would
encourage the Independent Committee to address this issue in their
UNISON Scottish Secretary
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