A new year can bring new beginnings and challenges, and this is especially true for our young adults who are set to finish secondary school this year.
By mid-January, pupils from Rutherglen and Cambuslang, and across Scotland, were to submit their applications to UCAS in the hope of gaining a place at college or university to study their subject of choice. Although the deadline of January 15 has passed, some colleges and universities may still accept applications, so if you have not done so already, please get your application in quickly!
In Scotland, we should be very proud that our young adults have access to some of the best further and higher education institutions. From universities like Glasgow and Edinburgh – which regularly make the world’s top 100 – to outstanding colleges like Glasgow Clyde College, we certainly punch above our weight in global rankings.
We need to ensure that as many Scots as possible are able to get into such institutions, and equally as important, that we do all we can to get more students enrolled from the poorest backgrounds.
That is why I was delighted to read that Scotland’s Commissioner for Fair Access recently said that the Scottish Government policy of free university tuition for Scottish students has been “vindicated”. Professor Sir Peter Scott also issued a warning over the charging of tuition fees of more than £9,000 in England, saying the system there was “collapsing”.
Often, we hear opposition parties say that the policy is regressive and that it damages the drive to get pupils from poorer backgrounds into university, but the facts do not lie.
The number of Scots winning a place at university is at a record high. The number of students attending university from our poorest backgrounds is at a record high too.
Statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed 15.6 per cent of entrants to Scottish universities in 2017/18 were from the most deprived areas. The Scottish Government has set a target for the sector of having 16 per cent by 2021 and 20 per cent by 2030.
In my opinion, this is testament to the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintaining free university education for students from all backgrounds. The Scottish Government’s commitment to free tuition means that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students do not incur additional debt of up to £27,000, and average student loan debt is the lowest in the UK.
Whilst these further educational opportunities are increasing for our young people, other opportunities, which previous generations benefitted from, are being snatched away. Our education system, which is entirely devolved, has an incredibly close relationship with our EU partners.
Due to Brexit, and the ever-growing threat of leaving the EU without a deal, opportunities like Erasmus, the EU’s student exchange programme, and the freedom of movement to work and study across Europe could be removed.
It is an absolute scandal that two and half years from the EU referendum – a referendum where 63% of South Lanarkshire voted to remain – that important issues like this are yet to be resolved.
Our young people deserve to have the same educational opportunities that I and others enjoyed, and it would be a disgrace if UK politicians, who had those opportunities in their youth, were to deny those currently planning their future education options the same life chances.
Clare Haughey MSP