Education on the Rack

Universities. colleges and students themselves are all facing financial difficulties. Alan Morrison discusses the crisis in funding with Donnie Munro. recently elected rector of Edinburgh University.

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.515: Donnie Munro takes over as Edinburgh University's Rector

ne of the reasons I was willing to accept the nomination.‘ says Donnie .‘ylunro. the new rector of lidinhurgh ['niyersity. 'was that I come from a platform that has the attitude that education is eyeryhody”s hasic right. The unfortunate thing is that I don‘t think things are going that way. There are huge disincentiyes for

people who would otherwise consider entering highereducation.~

Munro. singer and guitarist with Scottish hand Runrig. recently took oyer rectorship ofthe l'niyersity from hroadcaster Muriel ( iray. after heating art gallery owner Richard l)emarco. noyelist lain Banks and Ml’ Maria l‘iy'fe in a campus—wide election. As a former student and art teacher in lidinhurgli and Aherdeen. he is well qualified to talk on the prohlems facing hoth studentsand the education estahlishment.

'l‘he ‘disincentiy es~ he mentions include the freezing ofstudent grants. the introduction of loans. the aholition of housing hcnefit for students and the future threat ofstudents haying to pay their own fees.

‘l‘m not pretending for one minute that students are the poorest sector ofsocietyf he maintains. ‘hut it has to he seen in an oy erall picture. 'l‘he loss of henefits to students is simply part ofa wider

programme of pressure that has heen put on society right across the hoard. particularly low income areas.

‘lt appears to me that anyone who is entering higher education faces the prospect of incurring deht at the end of it. If you add to this the loss of potential earning duringfour years‘ study assuming employment was ayailahle that has to he a disincentiye.‘

ln Septemher l‘Nll the goyernmeiit time the leyel oftlie student grant 7 worth up to {22(15 outside l.ondon and offered a top—tip loan of £420. The plan is to keep the grant at the same leyel while increasing the loan annually in line with inflation until it coyers lialfof the student's financial support. So unpopular is the scheme that hy' (‘hristmas only l2.5 per cent of eligihle students had applied for a loan. The Department of liducation and Science had predicted St) per cent.

The introduction of loans coincided with the withdrawal of housing henefit rights for students. To ease student hardship. the goyernment introduced Access l‘unds. which are administered hy indiyidual uniyersities hut hayc the disincentiye of heing means—tested. lliis month the goyernment announced that the fund for the next academic year will stand at LZSSm. a rise of just 3.3 per cent. In Scotland the money ayailahle will rise from £3. lm to £3. 17m a fraction of what is needed as it is estimated that students had claimed {lSm housing henefit in the lidinhurgh area alone. i

All ofthis plays against a hackground ofseyere underfunding in higher education itself. last month Sir Day id Smith. principal of lidinhurgh l'niyersity. announced a deficit of £5.45m in the l 'niyersitys hudget. Pressure is heing put on all further education estahlishments to increase student numhers. hut funding has not increased proportionally. lftliis course continues. uniyersities and colleges will he forced to demand some proportion of fees from students. which will iiieyitahly further restrict access to those from richer families.

This is a topic Donnie Munro w ill discuss in forthcoming meetings with \fl’s. ‘lt looks likely that there‘s going to he a ( ieneral lilection at some point fairly soon.. he says. ‘and one ofthe things that has to happen is that education is placed high on the agenda. l’eople hay e to he aware that it is yital to a country‘s deyelopment f


I RAVENSCRAIG: Another14510bs are to go at Ravenscraig by the summer. in additiontothe 1100 losses announced lastmonth. The latestannouncement coincides withthe publication ofa Commons committee report which criticises boththe Governmentand British Steel overthe closures inthe Scottish steel industry.

I EDINBURGH FESTIVAL: Glasgow's new directorot performing arts. Bob

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Palmer. has offered the Edinburgh Festival use of the King‘s Theatre in Glasgow as a replacement lorthe Lyceum. which is undergoing refurbishment. The Festival‘s director. Frank Dunlop. is considering the offer. but is keen to keep the programme intactin Edinburgh.

I MOTORWAYS: Anti—motorway campaigners in Glasgow have received a boost of confidence from Carlo Ripa Di Meana. the European Community's environment convenor. In the city for a

conference on the EC‘s Green Paper on urban environment. he said that Glasgow‘s expanding motorway networks would inevitably lead to increased pollution.

I QUEEN‘S HALL: The Scottish Tourist Board has added a grant of £150,000 to the Queen‘s Hall Motto Crescendo Appeal. taking the total to £400,000. A further 2200.000 is needed to complete new public and visitor facilities by the time of this year‘s Edinburgh Festival.

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