Comment: Education, cash and support

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I have been fortunate to have visited a number of local schools over the last few months, and it has been fascinating, and hugely encouraging to see that great things our young people are doing.

We are lucky to have excellent local schools in our community, where our children, teachers and families work in such successful partnership.

I believe that one of the principle goals for any government should be to encourage the highest possible standards of education for our children and young people, and not to restrict educational opportunities on the basis of family income.

Educational Maintenance Allowances provide financial support to young people from lower income families to help improve their employment prospects by staying in education at school or college level.

In England, EMAs were scrapped in 2010, however, the SNP has maintained funding for EMAs over the course of the last two parliaments.

In 2007 just 45 per cent of school students stayed on until sixth year. Now it’s 62 per cent.

Last week, the Tories announced their decision to scrap means-tested grants for university students in England, replacing them with loans.

This will have a hugely negative effect on students from the lowest income families and risks dissuading people from entering further education at all.

Here in Scotland, the Tories have pledged to end free higher education, proposing to tax graduates for the privilege of gaining an education.

This would be a hugely damaging step, leaving many of our young people feeling unable to pursue their educational dreams, for fear of being priced out of the opportunity to achieve their potential.

This kind of short-sighted approach to education has now led to the UK government ruling out post-study work visas for overseas students in Scotland.

A post study work visa is an important lever for attracting the best international student talent, securing essential income streams for our colleges and universities, and ensuring that the wealth of skills gained by overseas students studying in Scotland can be applied here, to the benefit of our society and our economy.

I was very pleased to hear John Swinney in the recent Scottish Government budget, give a clear commitment to protecting the Disabled Student Allowance.

This is in contrast to the approach of the UK government who have announced an intention to cut the Disabled Student Allowance.

Disabled people are already less likely to attend university and this will leave many unable to secure the support that they need to complete their studies and obtain degrees, putting them at a real disadvantage in an increasingly competitive job market.

Our young people have huge potential. I am glad that the Scottish Government recognises this, and ensures that they have the opportunity to study at college or university without paying fees.

This makes a huge difference to so many individual lives, and in the end, we all benefit from their knowledge, skills and industry.