Robin Parker: MSPs must rally to defend our worst-off students

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We should recognise the Scottish Government has done great things for students – abolishing tuition fees, protecting the Education Maintenance Allowance, together with plans for a minimum income for the poorest in higher education and a guarantee of training or education for 16-19 year olds.

However, the sad reality is it risks undermining some of these advances.

Parliament is being presented with a cut in college budgets and, even more worrying, a drastic £11 million reduction in student support. People across Scotland have been up in arms over these proposals; students, staff and community members have sent over 60,000 e-mails to MSPs via NUS Scotland’s Our Future, Our Fight website, calling on the government to protect college students. These cuts risk creating a youth unemployment merry-go-round, one where students haven’t got the financial support to study, but then don’t have the skills for work, undermining the Scottish Parliament’s efforts further.

Last year, our Budget for Bursaries campaign brought the parliament together under just this cause, and the budget was amended to add millions in extra student support. There was acceptance that there simply wasn’t enough student support money in the system, and this year is no different. All those who voted for the amended budget last year, including every SNP MSP, must recognise that the same problems still stand.

Before Christmas we welcomed the creation of a Youth Employment Minister, and a new fund to go with it. However, an £11m a year cut to student support threatens to undermine the £10m a year Youth Employment Fund. Essentially, money cut from student support will to go into a fund to support those same students who are forced to drop out.

The tens of thousands of e-mails sent to MSPs show the strength of feeling and makes this campaign one of the biggest to face the parliament. As we approach the budget vote we must see MSPs come together, listen to the voice of students, and reverse the proposed £11m cut to financial help for the poorest in highest education.

Robin Parker is president of the National Union of Students Scotland.