Michael Russell: We will not fail to deliver on education

Michael Russell. Picture: TSPL
Michael Russell. Picture: TSPL
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I WAS very pleased to see Brian Wilson’s recognition of the excellence of our university sector (Perspective, 17 December) and the achievement of Strathclyde University in becoming the THES UK University of the Year.

However, it is disappointing that he fails to recognise the fundamental importance of both further and higher education to Scotland and the key role they play in producing individuals with the skills for employment and supporting innovation.

We must not be deluded into believing that hypothetical future benefit means we should place the full burden of debt on students. In Scotland there is a record number of people in higher education and an increase in acceptances for next year, while in England acceptances have fallen by 26,000. This speaks volumes about the effect of tuition fees.

I am also dismayed at Mr Wilson’s dismissal of the aspirations of our school leavers. We need to support all of our young people across their education, not undermine them. That’s why we are investing in 2,000 extra university places for widening access, progression from college to university and to support key sectors. It is an innovation welcomed by universities and students.

The best package of student support in the UK will be introduced in 2013-14, providing a minimum income of £7,250 for students from the lowest income homes and real support for ordinary families. We have also maintained living cost support for FE students.

Finally, I agree that early intervention is essential … and we are making it a reality.

In 2008, the early years framework set out our clear intention to give Scotland’s children the best possible start in life, and since then the focus on preventative spend through the early years change fund we have seen that commitment through.

Further evidence is the launch of the early years collaborative – Scotland’s first multi-agency quality improvement programme – which will further support the vision of transformational change. We are putting in money and giving priority to education in a way Mr Wilson, when minister, failed to do.

• Michael Russell is Cabinet secretary for education and lifelong learning.