I grew up in one of the most deprived areas of the UK – a council estate in Kirkcaldy during the 1980s miners’ strike. I worked hard at school, and completed a degree and eventually a PhD. This solid educational base has led me to a career which has taken me right around the world.
My experience tells me education is fundamental to reducing inequality in Scotland and elsewhere in the world. As a lecturer who manages one of the UK’s leading engineering programmes at a Scottish university, I continually come across students who must leave university because they cannot afford to support themselves.
The Scottish Government deserves great credit for abolishing the £2,000 “Graduate Endowment Fee” in 2007, making higher education free in Scotland. However, it has also halved the grant payable to the very poorest students, to the lowest in the European Union – £1,750 per year (less than I received from Margaret Thatcher in 1987).
Students from poor backgrounds must now either work long hours or accumulate massive debts. I recently came across a student from a deprived part of Edinburgh who, as well as studying full-time also managed a supermarket full-time. He was one of the very best students I have encountered – proof that while Scots from poor communities may lack opportunity, they don’t lack commitment, intelligence or ambition.