Plea to give 24,000 students free education
MINISTERS are being urged to spend £30m to take thousands of college students out of the loans system and give them a free education, The Scotsman has learned.
Scotland's Colleges are calling for the extra money, recently allocated by the Scottish Government for student support, to be used to give grants to those following higher education courses at college.
The move would mean 24,000 students on HND and HNC courses at college would be given grants, while university students on degree courses would continue to have to take out student loans. Around 25 per cent of all higher education students are in the college sector.
The National Union of Students in Scotland warned the idea would benefit only a small number of students. But Scotland's Colleges, which represents the country's 43 higher education colleges, say the current system disadvantages the least well-off – and that the change would satisfy the SNP's pledge to widen access to education.
Chris Travis, chief executive of Scotland's Colleges, said: "We are very clear that if we want more people to access and benefit from education you cannot put barriers in their way. People coming out of university with tens of thousands of pounds of debt is a real deterrent."
The college body surveyed more than 1,000 students across Scotland and found that fear of debt was the biggest barrier to higher education. It said students in colleges are the least financially able to afford education, as the majority come from single parent families or deprived areas – or are mature students with mortgages and families to support.
Mr Travis said the current system punishes students for taking the college route to university as they take longer to achieve a degree and therefore end up with the greatest debt.
He added: "If they have debts already, the thought of going onto university and gathering another three years of future debt is a major barrier."
Gurjit Singh, NUS Scotland president, said it was simply shifting the barrier rather than solving the problem: "If you only gave it to college students then only they would benefit and that's a small number. Regardless of where you are studying you should be eligible for help."
The Scottish Government is currently consulting on how the 30m set aside from the 2010-11 budget for student support should be spent. A government spokeswoman said: "The consultation on student support is due to close next week. We will be considering all the responses to the consultation in detail and will announce the way forward on how we can further improve student support in due course."
MARK Steenson from Lossiemouth, was unable to pursue his first choice of career because of the fear of debt.
The 22-year-old achieved an HND in tourism at the Central College of Commerce in Glasgow and wanted to go on to take a degree in event management at Glasgow Caledonian University.
But, as his HND was not in event management, he could not go straight into third year and was forced to choose a tourism degree.
By the time he graduated, last year, he had 14,000 of debt. He said: "The thought of doing an extra year or two and ending up thousands of pounds more in debt was just too much."
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