Every Scot knows cutting the attainment gap is key if we want to end the kind of poverty which is handed down from generation-to-generation.
Nicola Sturgeon says that at the end of her next term in Government she wants to be judged by her record on attainment. That’s right, after nine years of failing Scotland’s most deprived families she wants a second chance.
In addition to teacher training being cut by almost 30% (report, 29/03/16) we now have 4,000 fewer teachers under the SNP. We have redundancies in universities and colleges. We have 140,000 fewer college students. We have cuts to the education budget of every single council in Scotland. That’s their record.
I run one of Scotland’s top university engineering programmes. Studying with us is a huge opportunity. Even with reduced entry standards, it is still hard to fill the places we’ve reserved for students from poor backgrounds because the attainment gap in our schools is so wide.
Even so, getting in to university is just the first hurdle.
The SNP have cut the bursary for the poorest students by a quarter to just £1,750 per year. The cheapest accommodation for term-time only will cost double that. Education is only free in Scotland if you can afford it.
To go to university today the poorest students, more often than not, must work and/or take on huge debt. I have students from the most deprived parts of Scotland who work in casinos and nightclubs and still make it into classes at 9am.
There are others, however, who can’t work long hours and study at the same time. They will leave university with nothing. A zero hours contract in a bar, cafe or supermarket to help make ends meet becomes their career.
That’s why I agree with Kezia Dugdale that it’s time to ask Scots that can afford it to pay a little more tax and invest that money in education. After all, if Thatcher could give me a fair grant in the 1980s, why can’t Holyrood offer students the same today?