After more than 80,000 emails bombarded Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney and his colleagues the SNP’s planned £11.4 million reduction in student support grants was scrapped last week.
The Scottish budget, passed on Wednesday 8 February at Holyrood was set to feature a reduction from £95.6m to £84.2m in funds available for bursaries awarded to Scottish college students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
A last minute U-turn came after mounting public pressure from the National Union of Students and opposition MSPs with Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie, MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife particularly vocal in his appeals.
NUS Scotland organised its largest campaign yet launching the ‘Our Future, Our Fight’ campaign which encouraged concerned students, staff and communities throughout Scotland to e-mail their MSPs and protest the reduction of crucial support funds.
NUS President, Robin Parker said: “The decision to reverse this cut to the poorest college students is a victory for thousands of students across Scotland, and a victory for the ‘Our Future, Our Fight’ campaign.”
“The Scottish Government has listened to MSPs across the parliament and people across the country, and has acted to protect some of the poorest students in the poorest communities. We’re delighted and fully welcome that.”
Parker added: “[This] money ensures students can afford to stay in education, rather than add to the already-too-high numbers of youth in the dole queue.”
This news however seems unlikely to fully allay fears after a report carried out by the NUS in January revealed that of the 28 college institutions surveyed over half had already spent their discretionary bursaries for 2011/12. Scottish colleges also still face an annual £74 million drop in their budgets by 2015 despite an extra £8 million added to the 2012/13 finances as part of the revised budget.
A spokesperson for the Scottish government commented: “We are providing the best deal we can for colleges at a time when we are having to reduce many other budgets as a result of the swingeing cut the UK government is making to Scotland’s block grant.”
University of St Andrews Student’s Association President Patrick O’Hare, who has been vocal in his condemnation of the raising of tuition fees for RUK (Rest of UK) students, congratulated campaign efforts, saying:
“The SNP’s decision to reverse the proposed cuts to student support to colleges is to be welcomed and is a huge victory for the NUS campaign and students up and down the country.”
O’Hare was keen to point out; “There are other hugely positive aspects to the Scottish budget such as the increase in funding for higher education and the protection of the EMA.”
However he remains troubled by cuts to college budgets and said: “The biggest threat in the education sector remains the cuts to colleges, despite the U-turn on student support. I have been in contact with both Carnegie and Adam Smith colleges recently with a view to launching a Fife Students Forum, and I have vowed our support to their campaign against cuts.”
On the wider issue of education cuts O’Hare said: “We are also playing an active role in organising the ‘Not another lost Generation’ march around college cuts and youth unemployment organised for the end of February.”
Scheduled for Wednesday, 29 February the protest is due to assemble outside the Scottish Parliament and is organised by Scottish Students Against Cuts.