Student leaders at colleges across Glasgow this week hailed the decision to protect bursaries for Scotland’s poorest students.
Finance secretary John Swinney last year announced plans to scale student support funding back by £11.4million from £96m this year to £84m in 2012- 13, though the Scottish Government has since scrapped the plans under mounting pressure.
And student association officers across the west of Scotland have labelled the decision a strong signal of the success of National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland’s largest campaign yet.
The nationwide effort, which saw over 80,000 emails sent to Holyrood policymakers, was launched last year in response to proposed funding cuts and called on MSPs to protect funding support, places, local access and quality in colleges throughout the country.
Arlene King, student president of John Wheatley College, which hosted a Q&A session with education secretary Mike Russell last month, insisted the protection of funding would safeguard the future of several young people desparate to study at the Easterhouse-based institution.
She told The Journal: “Being from the east end of Glasgow I know how hard it can be for the students who attend John Wheatley College and, having already seen the effects of the cuts from last year, I know the difference it will make to their lives.”
Emma Iwanow, president at City of Glasgow College, which formed in 2010 following a merger of Glasgow’s Nautical, Metropolitan and Central colleges, said the recent campaign had energised individuals previously disengaged with student politics.
She added: “Our students come from all areas and all backgrounds. To know that they have the assurance that they will receive adequate student support throughout 2012/13 means they can attend college without the added pressures of not knowing whether they will receive their next bursary payment.
“Students were out in force throughout the campaign and they are still coming into the office to understand more about what we achieved, what is still a concern with further education funding, and how we can tackle that as a united group.”
The budget announcement at Holyrood last week came after new figures published in The Journal revealed less well-off students at colleges across Glasgow were denied almost £900,000 worth of much-needed bursary support this year.
Research conducted by the NUS Scotland in partnership with Scotland’s Colleges – the umbrella body for college principals – claimed half of institutions across Scotland were without sufficient funds to cover financial support for students, with one here in Glasgow forced to operate with almost £380,000 less than required for financial support.
The discovery came amid growing concerns over swingeing cuts to college teaching budgets set to be slashed by £74m by 2015.
And in an email sent to student association officers across Scotland passed to The Journal, NUS Scotland president Robin Parker, said: “I should be clear that this isn’t over – in fact it’s just the beginning. We still have colleges facing big cuts, and the largest reform process seen in the sector in decades.
“We need to ensure that, locally, access and quality is being maintained, and, nationally, that we don’t let up in our defence of colleges and the need for further investment in Scotland’s future.”