The data, obtained from a Freedom of Information request to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) by Scottish Labour, shows the Scottish Government now spends £1,089 less per student than was being spent in 2007. This casts doubt, the party says, on a commitment to ensure Scottish universities remain “at the forefront of global education”.
The figures showed the student teaching grant had fallen from £837,002,010 to £750,300,000 over the 13 years the SNP had been in government, a drop of £86,702,010. The Student Awards Agency Scotland fee payment had reduced in real terms by £369 to £1,820, and funding per student in real terms had also dropped by £720 to £5,830.
The figures also follow a report released by the SFC last week, which stated “the university sector’s future financial position is challenging across all indicators of sustainability”.
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said universities were vital to the post-Covid economic recovery and as a result “institutions and students must be a priority for investment”.
“Even before the pandemic, the Scottish Government had failed to allocate the additional funding requested by the university sector in its most recent budget,” he said. “This means that, by the time the effects of Covid-19 were taking hold, some institutions were already in a difficult financial position.
“Now, in a year where many students have already had their experience marred by the Scottish Government’s failure to plan for their return to university, it is disappointing to find out that on top of everything else, quality of tuition has clearly been de-prioritised by the SNP.
“Universities will be vital to the post-Covid recovery. For higher education to continue to make meaningful contributions to the economy and society, institutions and students must be a priority for investment. It is time the Scottish Government recognised this and invested in the future of our universities and the students who attend them.”
Meanwhile the Scottish Government is planning a possible staggered return of students to university after spending Christmas at home to prevent a repeat of a spike in Covid cases, which saw hundreds of students forced to isolate earlier this year when the new term started.
Education Secretary John Swinney said the Scottish Government was “learning lessons” from the return of students, which will impact measures in place after the Christmas break.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Scotland has a world-class higher education sector and our universities have a long-standing reputation for being amongst the best in the world.
“That is why we are investing more than £1 billion in 2019/20 in our higher education system, for the eighth consecutive year. It is also why we have provided a significant level of financial support for our colleges and universities through this unprecedented and difficult time. This includes allocating £75 million to protect world-leading research, £10m for estates development and £5m for digital inclusion.”
“This money is on top of existing funds and sits alongside this government’s long-standing commitment to free tuition, which benefits over 120,000 undergraduate students each year studying in Scotland and saves Scottish-domiciled students up to £27,000 student loan debt, over three years.”