From infancy to infirmary, we have all been benefactors of education. As students, we take great pride in the reputation of our institutions for being world-leading. We – quite rightly – praise our education for being world-class in research, teaching and learning. But what we don’t speak about anywhere near enough is the transformational change that further education offers students.
Our colleges are the gateway to new skills, opportunities and a new life for many. Our lecturers and teaching support staff are the unsung, overworked and often the overlooked heroes of our colleges. They play an invaluable role in expanding the horizons of all those who enrol.
As a country that has a long history of both educational excellence and the pursuit of positive, progressive change for the disadvantaged, colleges are the glue which binds these traditions together, transforming lives, communities and societies.
More on this: Modest budget increase for Scotland's colleges
The driving priority
Rightly, the Scottish government has made its commitment to education abundantly clear. The first minister has outlined that education is the “defining and driving priority” of the government. This commitment to advancing education in Scotland is a shared endeavour; a strong consensus exists across the entire sector that we must maintain a high standard of learning and teaching that is accessible to all across our society.
But, instead of commitment, our colleges and universities face cuts. Despite the real progress we have achieved, the latest government budget sees a real terms reduction in funding available for day-to-day costs at Scotland’s colleges and universities.
What we mustn’t forget – behind the political spin and budget-day theatrics – is the human cost. A cut to funding is a cut to opportunities, support services and lecturing staff. It means students lose out on what they deserve, which is a place in a good course, led by exemplary staff and supported by well-funded services.
Catastrophic Brexit process
This much-needed investment becomes even more imperative against the backdrop of a catastrophic Brexit process. It is often forgotten that colleges stand to lose just as much as universities as a result of Brexit. The loss of Erasmus+ opportunities and research funding, infrastructure funding, a diminishing pool of EU students, and the loss of indirect funding for courses such as foundation apprenticeships, upskilling courses and more. Now, more than ever, we need government commitment – not just rhetoric – to overcome it.
At our recent NUS Scotland conference, delegates passed an emergency motion to demand a fully funded education sector by an overwhelming majority. We will continue to campaign for a sector that can attract and retain the best staff, offer a wide variety of courses and classes, provide the support services our diverse student population need and overhaul the student support system to one that meets the living costs our students face.
But we cannot achieve this alone. That’s why our conference also pledged to work collectively with our partners in the sector like Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland and our trade unions to make the case for a properly resourced education system.
If education really is the Scottish government’s priority, now is the time to show it. Enough with the rhetoric – they must put their money where their mouth is.
Liam McCabe is president of NUS Scotland