The Scottish Government have faced criticism from the National Union of Students Scotland (NUS) in light of the final budget for 2017/18, claiming it was a “missed opportunity” to provide fairer funding for students.
NUS Scotland have praised the increased funding for mental health services in the budget but highlighted that it failed to address the needs of underfunded students in higher education.
The Budget (Scotland) Bill passed the third and final stage of parliamentary debate on Thursday, February 23.
After facing initial opposition, the Bill passed by 68 to 57 after the Scottish National Party (SNP) made a deal with the Green Party to support the budget.
The budget has attracted criticism from NUS Scotland and opposition parties over its perceived failure to address funding issues facing students in further and higher education.
During the debate concerning the Budget Bill, opposition parties criticised the SNP’s track record on education after the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, stated that, “education would be the number one priority of the Scottish Government” in the SNP’s official election campaign documentation last year.
In the final stage of debate over the Budget Bill, Derek Mackay, Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Constitution, conveyed the SNP’s commitment to closing the attainment gap and protecting free tuition for Scottish students.
“Education is this Government’s number one priority and this Budget backs that up with a comprehensive package of investment,” he told the Parliament at Holyrood, “the Bill delivers over £1.6 billion of investment in higher and further education, ensuring that access for eligible students is free and maintaining at least 116,000 college places.”
However, Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, has expressed concern over the Bill and claimed it failed to listen to the voices of “countless students [who are] in desperate need of fairer funding.”
The NUS press release continued: “while it’s really positive to see increased college funding and funding for mental health services, the budget failed to deliver certainty for students of whether they’ll receive any financial support while studying or plug the obvious holes in the system.”
The NUS Scotland President highlighted that recent figures from the Scottish Funding Council show a drop in students from lower socio-economic backgrounds accessing higher education, as well as a reduction in part-time college students. Sandlan emphasised the need for further investment in education in light of these figures.
The budget also includes an investment of an additional £150 million over the next five years in mental health services.
This additional funding will see investment in mental health exceeding £1 billion in 2017/18, a first in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
Sandlan praised the budget in the NUS press release: “One area of really good news is the increased funding for mental health services, particularly for children and young people.
“That’s a really positive move, and one that NUS Scotland called for in the run up to the Scottish elections.”
Image: Graeme Maclean