Rachel Hanretty: St Andrews isn’t affiliated with the NUS, so for all of us who don’t know anything about it, what does the NUS do?
Robin Parker: NUS Scotland, the National Union of Students in Scotland, is a confederation of students’ associations that represents over 500,000 students studying in colleges and universities across Scotland. That’s what we are, but what we really do is change the lives of students. We work to make the educational experience better for students, through campaigning for increased financial support to students.
RH: During your time as president of NUS Scotland what do you hope to achieve for Scottish students?
RP: The campaigning work of students’ associations and NUS Scotland over the last few years has meant that the introduction of tuition fees for Scots is inconceivable and the government has introduced plans to increase the amount of student support loans available to Scots by a large margin. It’s my intention to make sure those commitments by the government are maintained. Longer term, we need to help unions down south reverse the tuition fees decision, which in turn will have an impact on the fees students from the rest of the UK are charged to attend university in Scotland.
RH: As governments and university courts have failed to listen to union presidents and the NUS when it comes to setting fees, could it be said that the NUS is losing it’s weight as a national voice in politics?
RP: Just the opposite. NUS Scotland campaigned successfully to get candidates to sign up to the Reclaim Your Voice campaign and commit not to introduce fees, to protect college places and graduate numbers and to improve student support in the next parliamentary session. Because of campaigning by students across Scotland, we now have over 85% of the Parliament and an unprecedented SNP Majority Government committed to improving student financial support and protecting the number of graduates and college places in Scotland, without introducing tuition fees for Scottish students.
RH: In your opinion have Scottish universities provided enough bursary packages to soften the blow of a £36,000 bill for a degree in St Andrews?
RP: No. By setting the price of a degree at £36,000, another Scottish university principal has failed their students. St Andrews now join Edinburgh University in earning the shameful distinction of the UK’s most expensive universities. Of course, it’s important to be clear where the blame lies for these outrageous fees. The Westminster Government, in trebling fees down south, is the reason why we are in this situation.
In Scotland, the Government and the Parliament have taken a different path. When the Scottish Government entrusted principals to set fees for students from the rest of the UK, they gave them more responsibility than their counterparts were given down south, with the reasonable understanding that institutions would do what was in the best interest of students, not their bank accounts. Sadly, the principals have let down students, they’ve let down the government and they’ve let down Scotland’s educational tradition.
RH: Can you paint is a picture of what higher education will look like in Scotland in 5-10 years time?
RP: I can paint a picture of what I’d like higher education to look like in Scotland. One free of tuition fees, where students’ achievements are only constrained by their drive to learn and succeed, not their ability to afford an education. I’d argue this is not wildly optimistic. In the past year, Scotland had rejected tuition fees. It is moving towards a minimum student income for students that will lift all above the poverty line during their time in education. It is recognising the problem of widening access to those prove deprived communities.Those policies were approved by Parliament, but they are the result of the work NUS Scotland has done over the year. Who’s to tell us what we can’t achieve in the next five?