New NUS Scotland and Scotland's Colleges analysis has shown that the current student support budget is not enough to meet demand. A Freedom of Information request of all colleges in Scotland has shown that, of those who responded, 50% had overspent the bursary budget (see note 1).
This means those institutions found the money provided to them by Government not enough to meet demand, and have been forced to dip into their own funds to provide the financial support students need.
The analysis comes after the Scottish Government proposed an £11m cut to student support, reducing the current £95.6m budget to £84.2m from August onwards.
Bursaries are discretionary funds provided to the poorest students in some of the poorest communities in Scotland, and are the only form of financial help provided to ensure people from all backgrounds can afford to study at college (see note 2).
The SNP manifesto promised to protect the college bursary budget throughout this parliament and every SNP candidate made a personal pledge to do so as well (see note 3).
Given the current budget was clearly not enough there are fears that an £11m (11.9% cash-terms) cut could have severe consequences for the poorest colleges students.
Over 63,000 emails have been sent to MSPs through NUS Scotland's Our Future, Our Fight campaign, from students, staff and members of the community calling on the Parliament to protect student support budgets, and protect places, quality and local access.
Robin Parker, NUS Scotland President, said: "This analysis is incredibly worrying as it shows that even the current £95.6m budget was not enough to meet demand from the poorest students hoping to go to college just now.
"This year we've relied on college reserves but next year, given the cuts institutions are also facing, we won't be able to do that. The SNP's manifesto was clearly right in May to promise to protect this budget throughout the parliament, but they are now absolutely wrong to be proposing an £11m cut. This would be a cut to the poorest people in some of the poorest communities in Scotland.
"Over 63,000 emails have been sent to MSPs from people across Scotland through NUS Scotland's Our Future, Our Fight campaign asking them to fight this when it comes to voting on the Budget, and the Scottish Government must listen to this.
"At a time of high unemployment and youth unemployment in particular, this drastic cut to student support could price people out of college, and force them onto benefits, undermining the Government's own efforts to tackle youth unemployment in Scotland.
"How can we get people into training and education, and out of unemployment, when they can't afford to go or to stay through to the end of their course? This is not only unfair but it also makes no sense.
"We fully back the Government's aims to tackle youth unemployment but we have real fears that an £11m a year cut to student support could undermine the Government's new £10m-a-year Youth Employment Fund.
"As we approach the Budget vote, the Scottish Parliament must come together, listen to the tens of thousands of people that have contacted them, and protect financial help to the poorest students in Scotland.
John Spencer, Convener of Scotland's Colleges' Principals' Convention said: "Colleges have often used their own funds to help ensure demand for bursaries can be met.
"Colleges support the poorest and most disadvantaged young people in Scotland, and as we look to another three years of budgets falling and the additional costs of reform, it is important that all efforts are made to protect those learners.
"No student should face having to drop out of their studies because of bursary money running out."
1) NUS Scotland submitted an FOI to colleges which came back earlier this month. The results are summarised below
Of 28 responding (out of 40), 14 had spent more than 100% of their allocation and another eight had spent their full amount.
Of 28 responding, 10 had spent more of their bursary allocation this year than last year
Of 29 responding, six had allocated 100% of their FE discretionary funds, 12 between 75 and 100%, five between 50 and 75%, four between 25 and 50% and two between 0 and 25%.
Of 29 responding, six had allocated 100% of their HE discretionary funds, nine between 75 and 100%, five between 50 and 75%, five between 25 and 50% and four between 0 and 25%.
2) Student support for 19 y/o and over on full-time college courses comes in the form of college bursaries. Bursaries are discretionary funds provided to the poorest students in some of the poorest communities in Scotland, and are the only form of financial help provided to ensure people from all backgrounds can afford to study at college.
3) The college bursary budget was increased to £95.6m at the last budget and the SNP manifesto pledged to protect it at this level throughout the parliament stating (p17): "In the most recent Scottish Budget we provided an additional £15 million for college bursaries and funding to support 1,200 additional college places.
"We are committed to protecting existing students’ living costs through our budget for 2011-12. For the future, we will protect the advances already made. We will continue with increased support for college bursaries, allowing us to provide 50,000 a year for each of the next five years."
Furthermore, SNP press release from February 2011 (http://www.snp.org/media-centre/news/2011/feb/snp-pledge-50000-work-places-young-scots) under the bullet point "Record support for bursaries by continuing the £10 million of additional funding this coming year to provide 50,000 bursaries a year for the next four years", Angela Constance (at the time the SNP's Minister for Skills and Further Education) announced "I can confirm we will guarantee the additional funding for bursaries not just for next year but for the full four year parliament.”
Alex Salmond with commitment to improve student support
Education Secretary Mike Russell with commitment to improve student support