A student union body has declared Scotland’s university and college education system is “broken” and failing its members.
The National Union of Students Scotland said it believes a “spiral” of Scottish Government cuts have threatened students’ futures and weakened the “already vulnerable” sector.
The union’s conclusions are set out in its report Broke Students, Broken System, the first of three papers it intends to publish this year examining the current standards of education in Scotland.
The report argues students are being let down by a “dysfunctional” college and university system in which decision-making is influenced mainly by market forces rather than student experience, well-being or outcomes.
It acknowledges some progress has been made in higher and further education reform since the Scottish Parliament was formed following devolution 25 years ago.
But it concludes progress seems to have stalled, with Scotland’s education policy instead settling into a pattern “defined by underfunding and a lack of ambition”.
The report first sets out what are considered to be faults in the current system and identifies five key areas where it argues reforms are required: the funding model, student finance, housing, transport and mental health.
The subsequent two reports to follow later this year will outline international best practice and policy ideas from countries comparable to Scotland, then present a roadmap towards a new and improved system built by Scotland’s students from the ground up.
NUS Scotland president Ellie Gomersall said: “Students in Scotland have long been struggling under the pressure of trying to learn in an education system which has been underfunded, undervalued and in desperate need of a different approach.
“Education is our best route to tackling poverty and inequality, but the focus needs to shift on creating a system that benefits people, not profit.
“There is a lack of ambition to make this happen from those in Holyrood, so the student movement is determined to lead the way – and this report is just the beginning.
“The current system prioritises revenue over student wellbeing and erodes the concept of education as a public good.
“The student housing crisis is deepening, the cost of public transport is still unaffordable, the Scottish Government is slashing funding for universities and colleges – and all of this has a growing impact on our mental health.
“Those in power must read this report and act – we need profound change and now.”
Higher and further education minister Graeme Dey said: “While the 2024/25 Budget is the most challenging to be delivered under devolution, we are continuing our support for colleges and universities with nearly £2bn in the next financial year – this includes protecting free education by scrapping tuition fees and a £2,400 increase in student financial support for higher education students from the next academic year.
“Our emergency legislation to introduce a cap on rent rises has helped to protect students in the private rental sector during the cost-of-living crisis. We’ll continue to provide additional protection for tenants when the cap ends in April, subject to parliamentary approval.
“In addition to these important measures, we have considered recommendations from our review into purpose-built student accommodation, which looked into issues such as supply, affordability and regulation. A response will follow in due course.
“We are also finalising the student mental health action plan as part of our commitment to supporting students’ well-being and we have invested over £3m for mental health services in colleges and universities for the 2023/24 academic year.”
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