The future of our young people and their right to a quality education should be at the heart of what any Government does. With tens of thousands of fewer college places in Scotland, higher drop-out rates for undergraduates and the worst levels of financial support for students, Scotland needs to up its game.
As part of my campaign to the next Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, I have made clear that the quality of education and access for poorer students should be one of the centrepieces of our next manifesto. Speaking to people across Scotland the issue of access to education and student support comes up time after time. Not just young people either but parents and grandparents are seeing opportunity snuffed out for their loved ones because of the reduction in college places and inadequate levels of student support. They tell me ‘What is the point of going to University if you cannot get by from week to week and end up doing poorly because of having to work two jobs?’
Scotland’s universities also do worse that the rest of the UK on students dropping out. That is wasted money in our education system and a wasted opportunity for the students affected. Universities have been working hard to address this but we need to do more to bring rates down. We need to prioritise further education and tackle poor retention rates. Providing more help for students who are struggling at university needs to be a priority, and I believe approaches like two plus two degrees which start in college could also help.
It is crucial that we offer solutions to the SNP’s track record of falling college places and staff cuts. Recent statistics show that there are 19,500 fewer college students in Scotland since 2011/12 and that over £45m has been spent on voluntary severance for college staff between 2011 and 2014. Our colleges in the North East have been affected too.
It is clear to me that Scottish Labour needs to show it means business with definitive policies for the next generation. People want to see change offered by us and it is time we had a no ‘ifs or buts’ position on improving access to education.