Future of higher education running high on SNP agenda

By Tom Barry

The SNP is expected to bring in swift legislation regarding the future of Scottish universities if they are returned to power in the Holyrood elections in May with student support and  everyday running of the sector set to be the key issues.

The proposed move by the incumbent government comes as figures showed the number of students asking for emergency help increased by 40 per cent over the past five years.

Last year more than 13,000 students availed of a £9 million hardship fund and now that most parties have pledged not to introduce tuition fees in Scotland the focus has switched to how the long term shape of higher education in the country will be shaped.

Education secretary Mike Russell will give details of the proposals to MSPs in Holyrood later this week with the issues of student finance, governance and helping students from less-well-off backgrounds expected to be to the forefront of the debate.

First Minister Alex Salmond said one the main reasons the number of students seeking help was rising was because there was now something to apply for.

Mr Salmond added: “There are areas where we have to update the legislative environment of our universities to enable them to gather in additional revenue from a range of sources without inhibition so we can meet these new spending environments.

“We believe we can invest in our education system without burdening students with generations of debt. We are holding out for the Scottish tradition of free education.”