Students warn Scottish Government not to overturn commitments made to students after Yousaf announces review of SNP manifesto.
Ellie Gomersall, NUS Scotland President, has written to Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills, Jenny Gilruth, and Minister for Higher and Further Education, Graeme Dey, demanding that the Scottish Government recommit to the £46 million they pledged to higher and further education in the 2023/24 budget.
In December, the government committed an additional £20 million to universities and £26 million to colleges. NUS Scotland and UCU Scotland were quick to point out that this would have been a below-inflation raise, and therefore a real-terms cut, which would not cover the cost of teaching. However, the Scottish Government has announced that universities and colleges will not see that funding at all, leaving them with even less money to deliver the high-quality education that is expected of them.
Gomersall’s letter, sent today, 4th May 2023, highlights the difficult position that students and staff in colleges and universities face. The overwhelming majority of students across the education sector report having poor mental health, whilst staff struggle to make ends meet on insecure contracts that rely on them working unpaid hours.
The letter also notes that this is the second multi-million-pound cut to education this year, the first being when the Scottish Government refused to renew the £20 million which has funded counsellors in colleges and universities for the last 3 years.
The news of these cuts comes amidst Humza Yousaf’s announcement of a “review” of the SNP’s manifesto commitments, putting at risk important promises that NUS Scotland has already won for students, such as raising the total package of student support to the Real Living Wage.
Commenting, NUS Scotland President, Ellie Gomersall, said:
“This is Humza Yousaf’s opportunity to set the tone of his relationship with students. He needs to listen when students say we can’t afford to live and listen to staff when they say they're stretched too thin.
“The £46 million promised to further and higher education in the December budget was a real-terms cut to begin with, but withdrawing it altogether is a real blow to students and the wider sector.
“Institutions need more funding. Already they rely on staff working above and beyond their contracts to function.
“I urge the Scottish Government to reconsider who this short-sighted decision. Students are not cash-cows with infinite money. Many of us are just struggling to pay rent and eat a hot meal every day.”
NUS Scotland’s full letter goes as follows:
Dear Jenny Gilruth MSP and Graeme Dey MSP,
I am writing to express my deep disappointment at the Scottish Government’s U-turn on the £46 million they promised to colleges and universities in the December budget. I urge you to reconsider this decision, and to once again pledge this funding to colleges and universities.
The December budget was greeted with disappointment throughout the education sector. We told the Scottish Government then that the real-terms cut of an additional £46 million for universities and colleges was not enough to keep our education system afloat in the cost-of-living crisis. To withdraw this funding altogether is unjustifiable. The £46 million promised to institutions was in the form of a teaching resource grant. It would have covered teaching, support services and staffing. Students and staff are in desperate need of this resource.
We are in the midst of a student mental health crisis. The Thriving Learners surveys found that 64% of college students and 73.5% of university students reported having low wellbeing. NUS Scotland’s Cost of Survival survey found that 37% of students had considered leaving their course. I urge you not to exacerbate these problems by further cutting funding to student support services, and instead to rescind on this decision whilst you still have the chance.
Staff are already overworked and underpaid, being forced to work hours of overtime per day just to keep their institutions afloat. UCU Scotland are currently undertaking a marking assessments boycott with which NUS Scotland stands in solidarity, demanding contracts that pay them for the work they actually do, as well as more secure contracts. A cut of this magnitude will lead to staff being given fewer hours or potentially even losing their jobs. They will be expected to work even harder to cover gaps, and they are even more likely to be employed on temporary and insecure contracts as institutions struggle to cover the cost of teaching.
This is not the first cut to student support services this year. In 2019, NUS Scotland won £20 million for mental health counsellors in colleges and universities. In 2022, the Scottish Government refused to confirm whether this funding would be renewed. It is now May 2023, the funding has run out, and your Government has still failed to confirm whether it will extend the funding for vital student mental health services. The NUS Scotland Save Our Counsellors petition has already secured over 1500 signatures from students. These students told NUS Scotland that “cutting [counsellors] would be catastrophic,” and called the government’s refusal to renew the funding “unethical”.
I’m also concerned about Humza Yousaf’s announcement that SNP manifesto commitments may be reviewed, potentially putting at risk the promises NUS Scotland has already won for students. I am asking you today to confirm that the commitments made to students in the SNP manifesto and Programme for Government will indeed be delivered. On behalf of NUS Scotland members and students across Scotland I urge you to reconsider your decision and reinstate the £46 million lifeline to students and staff in the education sector.
NUS Scotland President