Councillor labels university funding cut a “hammer blow”

A senior Scottish Borders councillor has labelled a planned cut to 1,200-funded university places as a “hammer blow” and called on fellow elected members to back her concerns.

Finance Secretary and Depute First Minister Shona Robison has said the Scottish government could not afford to continue financing additional places created during the pandemic.

Ms Robison told Holyrood’s finance committee that it was no longer “sustainable” to fund an additional 1,200 first-year university places that were created during the pandemic due to a “big spike” in the number of pupils meeting admission thresholds after exams were disrupted.

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She said ministers had used UK government Covid funding to finance those places and kept them open for two years.

Scottish Borders Council’s Executive Member for Education, Councillor Leagh Douglas, is alarmed at the move and its implications.

She has asked fellow councillors to back her concerns and to agree the council urgently writes to the depute first minister for clarity on the situation especially for those students from economically-disadvantaged backgrounds.

Leagh Douglas, Conservative councillor for Selkirkshire, said: “This is a hammer blow for students who thought that, perhaps, university education maybe within reach. Our homegrown students are already facing barriers into university because of the cap on Scottish student places and this will be worse if there are even fewer places available.

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“Our young people urgently need clarity on the situation and our universities – including our local Heriot Watt campus in Galashiels – need to know the impact on them.”

Councillor Douglas has placed a motion before Scottish Borders Council’s full council meeting on Thursday, January 25.

She added: “I am urging all my colleagues across the chamber to support my motion so we can help provide some security to our young people about their future in education. This is a complete let down of our young people and turns our previously world class education system into a joke.

“I would also like to know what the impact has been on students who want to attend colleges across Scotland.”

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There is already an annual cap on the number of Scottish students who can access university places funded by the Scottish Government. Students who get free tuition in Scotland should have lived in the UK for three years and have their “ordinary residence” in Scotland before starting their course.

SQA figures showed 30,050 Scottish students were accepted to university last year, compared to 30,490 in 2022, up from 28,750 in 2019.