By: Daniel King, Student Voices writer
Baby Boxes. A box delivered to all new families, within which is a plethora of materials for new-borns. From that vital bag of nappies (because which parents would have the audacity to remember to buy this) to that first ever toothbrush, the box will provide mums and dads with all the basics they require to bring up their little darlings in those first difficult months.
This £6m proposal was recently announced by Nicola Sturgeon, as part of her strategy to convince Scottish voters of her universalist and socialist credentials before May’s Holyrood election. Indeed, so as to not let her great strive towards interventionism go unnoticed, she specifically stated that the Baby Box “will be a universal benefit to help us tackle inequalities in Scottish society and close the attainment gap between the poorest and richest children”. And there is the great contradiction at the heart of the Nationalist arguments when it comes to young people. How can a policy truly eradicate any inequality between the richest and the poorest children if it is a policy that will benefit both in equal measure?
It is the same argument that can be applied when we look at the SNP’s absolute opposition to any tuition fees being imposed on Scottish and EU students (but not, incidentally, students from the rest of that loathed United Kingdom). The former First Minister Alex Salmond famously stated that “the rocks will melt with the Sun before we allow tuition fees” but surely the benefits of any policy should be evaluated before any bizarre commitment to it is made. Since 2011, the proportion of state school students attending Scotland’s ancient universities has actually fallen. There has only been a 0.2% increase in young people from non-professional backgrounds being accepted into university whereas in England (where students are lumbered with a debt of £27000 in tuition fees after graduating) that figure has increased by 3%. And only 9.7% of disadvantaged youngsters in Scotland will be heading off to University in September compared to 17% south of the Border. So, it must be asked who is benefiting from this policy- the intelligent and aspirational children from deprived backgrounds or the middle class children whose families could easily afford to fund them through a degree? It has been calculated that the net effect of the SNP’s no-fee policy is a £20m-a-year transfer from the poorest students to their affluent peers. This is not just a result of the middle classes saving money by their children attending Scottish universities. Rather, it comes against a backdrop of swingeing cuts to the services that, traditionally, students from deprived backgrounds depended on in order to get on in life, allowing the Scottish Government to afford the policy of free university tuition.
The amount paid out by Student Award Agency Scotland for grants and bursaries has fallen substantially from £100m in 2012/13 to £63m in 2014/15, meaning that disadvantaged young people are now less likely to receive funding throughout their university career. This forces many into taking out loans and lumping mass amounts of debt on to themselves (ironically, the nationalists’ main argument for abolishing any type of tuition fee was that they wanted to remove debt from all graduates). Furthermore, those students who do not wish to take the Higher Education route into employment have taken the brunt of the Government’s cuts. Further Education colleges have seen their real-term funding slashed by 20% in the last five years and 152,000 course places have been sliced; a disgraceful sacrifice for the SNP’s obsession with university students having to pay nothing for their education.
What angers me the most is that these cuts have been carried out in my name. I will be starting university in September free of charge yet I am privileged enough to have grown up in a comfortable, middle class household. I would be perfectly willing to pay something for my education and I believe that all those who can afford it, should also contribute something in the way of tuition fees. Yes, £9000 a year is a ridiculous amount, as well as an impractical one as it is unlikely that the UK Government will ever be able to claim back all the debt from low-paid graduates. However, I see no problem in paying £3000 a year as long as the extra funds received by the Scottish Government are invested in improving the educational experience for those who are from deprived backgrounds or decide upon Further Education as that stepping stone in their life. Will the SNP ever agree to this though? Of course they won’t. And I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that middle class voters secured the party’s victories in the 2007 and 2011 Scottish elections.
What we need to see from politicians is a mature and radical plan, ensuring that children from all walks of life can achieve their full potential, no matter which route they take to accomplish it. It’s time that Nicola Sturgeon and all MSPs get out of that Baby Box and see the world as it really is.
The Radical Manifesto for Young People Reviewed by Student Voices on 20:50 Rating: