Comment: a tale of two education policies

Photo by Andrew Cowan
Photo by Andrew Cowan

Since January 5, pupils in primary 1-3 have been benefiting from the expansion of the Scottish Government’s free school meals policy. Almost 9,000 school children across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire are now eligible for free school meals.

Across Scotland an additional 135,000 pupils will benefit – giving children access to a healthy meal and saving hard pressed families at least £330 per year for each child.

The policy is a key measure in tackling child poverty and has been welcomed by a wide range of children’s charities and campaigners including Save the Children, UNISON and Shelter Scotland.

Last year Labour MSPs teamed up with the Tories to vote against free school meals – a decision which was met with criticism from many traditional Labour voting families and anti-poverty campaigners across Scotland.

The policy is a universal benefit which guarantees access to a free school meal for every child in P1-P3. Research shows this removes the stigma of means testing for school lunches, meaning many more children will take advantage of free school meals as a result.

I believe this is major step forward which will help improve educational attainment and healthy eating habits.

When former First Minister Alex Salmond was asked what his greatest achievement in office was, he said he was most proud of abolishing tuition fees.

By restoring free education to Scotland, the Scottish Government has ensured that education is based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.

Contrast this with the dire prospects for students down south where those wanting to go to university face a fee burden of £9,000 per year.

The SNP is absolutely committed to free education, while new Labour leader Jim Murphy continues to dodge questions about whether or not he would re-introduce fees.

My own research on tuition fees found that in 2013/14 alone, if the 120,000 Scottish-domiciled students attending a Scottish institution in 2013/14 had been required to pay the average tuition fee in England of £7,860, the total bill for Scotland’s students would have been £940 million.

Scotland’s higher education system is world class. Recent studies reveal Scotland is the most highly-educated country in Europe and the best place to study in the UK.

We have used the powers of the Scottish Parliament to protect free university tuition – opening the doors of opportunity to young people across Scotland.

I’m confident that with more investment in our educationsector, Scotland’s universities will continue to go from strength to strength.