Government pressured to reveal timetable for minimum student income
Labour and the Liberal Democrats said students and parents in Scotland want to know if the policy will begin in the next academic year.
Scottish ministers have been urged to set out a timetable for introducing a minimum student income.
Creating a minimum income of £8,100 through a mixture of bursaries and loans was one of the key recommendations of a review of student support published in November 2017.
Now, Scottish Labour has criticised the Government for delays in implementing the recommendation.
For many young people it is their worry about having enough to live on which holds them back Iain Gray MSP
The party led a debate at Holyrood on the issue calling on the Government to “urgently bring forward its timetabled plan” on minimum student income as recommended in the review.
Labour’s education spokesman Iain Gray said his party backs the Government position stating tuition fees will not be introduced, either upfront or by the back door.
He said the SNP policy of free tuition removes one of the financial barriers to accessing education but it is not enough by itself.
“For many young people it is their worry about having enough to live on which holds them back,” he added.
“The fact is, our students still have less to live on than students in England or Wales, albeit, tuition is not paid for in those jurisdictions.
“Our motion only asks the Government to implement its own review.”
He said higher education minister Richard Lochhead should set out a plan to parliament within the next few weeks so students can benefit in the next academic year.
We support the ambition outlined in the review to achieve a minimum income for our students Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead
Mr Lochhead said: “This parliament gives the best support package anywhere in the UK and our graduates leave with less debt compared to the debt that’s inherited by graduates elsewhere in the UK.”
The minister said access to education must be based on ability to learn, not ability to pay, and implementation of minimum income guarantee has begun through the introduction of a £8,100 bursary for students who have been in care.
He added: “We support the ambition outlined in the review to achieve a minimum income for our students.”
Mr Gray said: “Just to point out to the minister that the review did not have an ambition of a minimum income guarantee, it had a recommendation.
“Will he agree to implement it?”
Mr Lochhead replied: “Of course it is our ambition to implement the guarantee.”
Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott urged the Government to set out when the minimum income would come into force so students and parents can know if it will be in place for the new academic year in August and September.
Conservative Liz Smith said there was a strong case for student loans reform, considering examples from elsewhere.
She said: “Grants are now so low that those from the lowest incomes will be taking on some of the highest debt.”
She added that the current system is “discriminatory and financially unviable in the longer run” but that her party did not support tuition fees.
Green MSP Ross Greer said a minimum student income is needed to deliver inclusive education, saying the current system is unfair and favours the well off.