Scottish Government responds to CFALP

CFALP has received a formal response from the Scottish Government to our letter to Mike Russell MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Education. Signed off by a civil servant, it confirms that the government does not intend to meet our request to extend living cost loans to DPLP students. It states:

 there are no plans to re-introduce [an award to cover] living costs

The letter does not repeat the assertion, made by the Scottish Government in their previous press statement, that the current arrangements already give ‘access based on ability to learn, not ability to pay’. Instead, budgetary pressures are blamed:

the Scottish budget faces real and significant long term cuts in coming years and tough decisions have had to be made to prioritise spending.

Limited resources mean that we are not able to reintroduce student loans for living costs to DPLP students, rather we have chosen to use the money available to support more postgraduate students in meeting the cost of tuition fees.

Whilst this change of emphasis may represent a welcome, if tacit, acceptance that current arrangements do not give fair access to the DPLP, the focus on the Scottish Government’s choices merely highlights the fact that the current situation is one of the government’s own making.

The letter goes on to reiterate the changes that have been made to postgraduate funding:

The living cost element of the outgoing Postgraduate Students’ Allowances Scheme (PSAS) was discontinued 2 years ago to enable us to use the funding to increase the number of students eligible to receive tuition fee support. The number increased from 1,820 to 2,700….The new [postgraduate loans] scheme will also mean that around 5,000 full and part-time postgraduate students will be eligible to apply for the Postgraduate Tuition Fee Loan, which is nearly twice the number of those who were able to benefit under PSAS.

The increased number of loans may make good headlines. But, as we have previously argued, keeping the support for any single student to a low level to spread the assistance as widely as possible results in a system that is ineffective and wasteful.

It is ineffective as the £9,000 or more students must still find makes studying a financial impossibility for all but well-off students. And it is wasteful as this means the available government support almost all goes to students who could afford to study without it – surely not the Scottish Government’s intention.

The recent, and welcome, announcement of improved student support for undergraduates also shows that the government is willing to invest in its political priorities. In this context, it is disappointing that no thought appears to using the changes to open up the route to the legal profession for less well-off students. As discussed here, those benefiting from the improved undergraduate support include well-off undergraduates, whose minimum loan increases from under £1000 to over £4000. And those in their fifth year of study training to be architects and vets will also benefit. Yet DPLP students remain without meaningful assistance. Surely securing fair access to the legal profession and a more representative legal system deserves at least equal priority to improving support for these groups.

The letter also makes some minor points about the policy reasons for equivalent support being available to trainee teachers and social workers. These may well be valid but, once again, highlights that the government is prepared to provide such support where it sees a need.

CFALP is disappointed that the government either does not see a representative legal profession and legal system as a priority or still does not understand the way in which its policies are making the profession increasingly the preserve of the privileged. 

We will continue our campaign to persuade the government that it can and should invest the relatively modest sums required to reverse this position.

The full text of the Scottish Government’s letter is available here: 20120824 – SG response to CFALP.

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