Ahead of the Scottish Government's Programme for Government statement, NUS Scotland has written to the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training calling for action on the cost-of-living for students. We have called for: a raise in student support grants and bursaries; an immediate rent freeze for all student tenants; and half price peak-time bus and train fairs for all students.
The full letter is below.
NUS Scotland President
Jamie Hepburn MSP
Minister for Further Education, Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training
CC: Patrick Harvie MSP, Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights; Jenny Gilruth MSP, Minister for Transport; and Kevin Stewart MSP, Minister for Mental Wellbeing and Social Care
Monday, 05 September 2022
NUS Scotland’s priorities for action on the cost-of-living crisis
Ahead of our introductory meetings, I wanted to take the opportunity to set out our immediate priorities for action over the coming year. We are still developing our campaign for the year with our member students’ associations, but it will come as no surprise that our focus will be on the cost-of-living crisis.
Firstly, we need to see action to raise the incomes of students and prevent poverty – students cannot be forgotten in this crisis. Recognising that difficult budget choices will have to be made, we have focused on an existing Scottish Government commitment to students. We strongly support your pledge to increase the total package of student support to the level of the real Living Wage and would like to see an in-year increase in grants and bursaries for all students, which will make progress towards this goal. Should the Scottish Government provide additional cost-of-living support to households, this would be our preferred mechanism for providing equivalent support to students.
Secondly, student rent costs were already spiralling out of control before the current crisis. Rents for student accommodation have increased 34 per cent in just three years, 12 per cent of respondents to our Broke survey said they’d been homeless and we’re seeing housing shortages driving up rents this year. We are pleased that the review of purpose-built student accommodation is making progress, but students cannot wait for relief from rent hikes. We therefore support calls from across civic Scotland for an immediate rent freeze – and want to see that freeze cover all students, whether they are in the private rented sector or purpose-built student accommodation.
Thirdly, we need action to reduce the costs of learning. In responding to our Broke survey many cited travel costs as their biggest concern. One student told us “The biggest challenge for me financially at college is making sure I have money for food and travel to get to the college and worrying about if I have enough money to do me the rest of the week let alone the month.” While we welcome the extension of the free concessionary travel scheme to under 22s, this falls well short of covering all students. As a first step towards extending the concessionary travel scheme to all students, we are calling for them to be eligible for half price buses and trains this year. Crucially, these must be available during peak time so that they reduce the costs of commuting to study.
We also need action on the wellbeing impact of the rising cost-of-living. Earlier this year 69 per cent of students told us that worrying about money impacted their mental health – there can be no doubt that this figure will rise as the crisis deepens. We would urge the Scottish Government to work quickly on developing and implementing a funded Student Mental Health Action Plan, and we will continue to support this work. However, as an immediate priority the Scottish Government should confirm the remainder of funding for student mental health counsellors for this academic year, as well as giving colleges and universities the certainty they require around future funding. Not doing so risks undoing the progress made to increase the availability of counselling, particularly for college students.
I look forward to discussing these issues and more when we meet.
President, NUS Scotland