In coming to understand Scotland’s balance sheet as he has, Professor Stiglitz must surely have noticed that this year the Scottish Government is budgeting for Scottish students to take out almost £0.5 billion in student loans? If he has asked for information on who takes out most of this loan, he will know that it falls disproportionately on “students with parents of limited means”, and low-income mature students, because we make such little use of student grants.
Professor Stiglitz compares Scotland with England. However, Scotland is the only part of the UK where student debt falls most heavily on the poorest. In Wales, indeed, an exceptionally generous system of student grants both for living costs and fees means that many Welsh students “of limited means” are able to leave university with less debt than equivalent Scots.
As an economist, Professor Stiglitz must see that it is profoundly regressive over the long term to run a system under which those who started with the least will end up paying back the most. The greatest service he could do Scottish students from the poorest backgrounds is not to repeat the government rhetoric here, but to use his influence with ministers to challenge it.
Lucy Hunter Blackburn, Edinburgh