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Labour accuse universities of “locking out” poorer students

ByJoshua Stein

Mar 10, 2015

Jim Murphy, leader of Scottish Labour, has criticised student recruitment at Scottish universities, particular the University of Edinburgh.

Murphy, who is also MP for East Renfrewshire, said that higher education institutions across Scotland were responsible for “locking out” the majority of potential local students.

Speaking at a meeting of his shadow cabinet in Edinburgh, he said that Scottish children from working class backgrounds get “left behind year after year”.

At the meeting, Mr Murphy, who was elected in December as the new Scottish Labour leader, pledged a cash fund of £19 million to fund three Edinburgh schools with the lowest levels of university admission if they succeed in the 2016 Scottish parliamentary elections.

Speaking to The Student, Ian Murray, Labour MSP for Edinburgh South, applauded the promises made by Murphy.

He said: “The policy announcement by Jim Murphy is very welcome. I went to Edinburgh University at 16, from one of the poorest schools in Scotland – Wester Hailes Education Centre – after completing the University summer school.”

Murray also said that for him, “Education was the key to social mobility and aspiration.”

Jim Murphy said the funds for the schools would come from a 50p rate of income tax on salaries of more than £150,000, proposed by the Labour Party.

The criticism comes after research under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act revealed the number of Scottish students attending Scottish universities has dropped.

The University of Edinburgh witnessed a drop in the number of Scottish students from 44.5 per cent of the overall student body in 2011/12 to 40.5 per cent in 2014/15.

The study also revealed that only 130 undergraduate students accepted by the university at the beginning of the academic year were from the poorest 20 per cent in Scotland.

This is in comparison to the 722 students from the least deprived 20 per cent of the population.

The introduction of the policy was also welcomed by Marco Biagi, MSP for Edinburgh Central.

Biagi told The Student that “it should be ability and willingness to learn that determine whether someone gets to study at university, not their background.”

Biagi also stated that the SNP had kept university tuition for Scottish students free, for this very reason.

But Professor Craig Mahoney, Principal of the University of the West of Scotland, sparked controversy among members of the student body, when he suggested last week that university fees were fundamental to the running of institutions.

He said that his institution had a multi-million pound shortfall in comparison to universities south of the border.

Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminster, is one of a number of politicians who have criticised Murphy since he became leader.

Robertson told The Scotsman that “after working with the Tories in the No campaign, Labour have lost the trust of people in Scotland”.

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