The NUS students' union has urged the government to make sure college students do not miss out on crucial bursary funding if they choose to attend the global climate strikes on Friday 20 September.
Bursaries for college students in Scotland come with specific attendance requirements – and despite reissued guidance from the Scottish Funding Council last year, some colleges insist on 100 per cent attendance if learners are to avoid their funds being cut.
Earlier this year, the Scottish government declared a “climate emergency” in a move first minister Nicola Sturgeon said was inspired by strike action from pupils – in which college students also took part.
The NUS Scotland students’ union has now written to further education, higher education and science minister Richard Lochhead welcoming the "radical steps being taken by the Scottish government to tackle this” – and calling for reassurance for its members.
“As part of this, we are seeking your assurances that the Scottish government will support students in exercising their democratic rights to take part in climate strikes, without fear that it will impact their studies – financially, academically, or otherwise – due to missed classes,” writes president Liam McCabe in his letter.
“As part of tackling the climate emergency, colleges and universities have a duty to take action. Indeed, we welcome that the 2018-19 outcome agreement guidance states that our institutions should ‘ensure that students develop the understanding of environmental and social sustainability required for the workplaces of tomorrow.’ We would be grateful for detail on how the Scottish government and its agencies will take this forward, and the steps that will be taken to ensure climate change is embedded in all aspects of further and higher education.”
Mr McCabe told Tes: “To achieve climate justice, there needs to be urgent and fundamental reform from the Scottish and UK governments to meet the challenge of the climate emergency we face. We hope to see students across the country mobilise, take action and participate in the demonstrations. We have called on the Scottish Government to show their support for students to do just that, by ensuring they won’t be penalised for joining the strike.”
Chief executive of Colleges Scotland Shona Struthers said: “It is incumbent on all organisations and individuals to reduce carbon emissions to tackle our planet’s climate emergency. The college sector in Scotland published its Statement of Ambition 2018-23 in December 2018 and colleges are committed to ‘be a key partner in delivering Scotland’s inclusive and environmentally sustainable economic growth’. Precisely how each of the institutions engages with their students who may participate in climate strikes is an operational matter for individual colleges.”
A Scottish government spokesperson said: "We are pleased to see our young people actively engaging on the issue of climate change but student absence is rightly a matter for individual colleges and universities to consider.
“Scotland is a world leader in tackling climate change. We have already almost halved greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 while growing the economy, increasing employment and productivity. Now we are redefining what world leadership means by committing to ending Scotland’s contribution to climate change, completely, within a generation.”