The National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a campaign entitled ‘Budget for Better,’ ahead of the upcoming elections to the Scottish Parliament.
The campaign calls for a significant investment in the mental health services currently provided in Scotland’s colleges and universities, as well as increases to bursaries and to the student loan repayment threshold.
The NUS, which has around 600 students’ unions affiliated to it from across the UK, has run several campaigns this year which have aimed to ensure that students are not disproportionately affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The union has called for a ‘no-detriment policy’ to be established at all colleges and universities, and for financial support for students through rent rebates and the restoration of maintenance grants.
It has had significant success in these campaigns – by the end of 2020, it had secured £20m for student hardship funds in England.
Speaking to the BBC’s Woman’s Hour earlier in the academic year, NUS president Larissa Kennedy was frank about the challenges faced by students during the Covid-19 pandemic.
She described the ‘uncertainty,’ that students have struggled with throughout the academic year and suggested that this was a ‘time for clarity.’
Specifically, she called for university students to receive universal access to testing for Covid-19, emphasising that this would also help staff and communities.
The Scottish Parliament elections, which are scheduled for 6 May, will therefore prove important for students, and students at the University of Edinburgh hope that they will offer the opportunity for their opinions to be heard.
A third-year Mathematics and Biology student at the University of Edinburgh said they hope to see pledges that universities in Scotland will still remain accessible to international students, as well as an increase in measures to support students through Covid-19.
“Students haven’t been prioritised at any point during this pandemic,” the student said. “I would appreciate the youth and the future of this country being given the voice and the importance that they deserve.”
The main political parties in Scotland have yet to release manifestos outlining their central pledges and policies, but there have been some announcements for students.
The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, has announced that the Scottish Conservatives will support free university tuition for Scottish students.
This is a somewhat surprising move, as it is at odds with the policy of the UK Conservative Party, and in the last two elections to the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Conservatives pledged to create a graduate tax for Scottish students.
This reversal could suggest that the major parties are seeking to address students’ concerns but may also be indicative of a desire from the Conservatives, currently trailing the SNP in the opinion polls, to win youth support.
The SNP have pledged to ensure that university tuition remains free for Scottish students.
As it is estimated that over 200,000 students are currently studying at universities in Scotland, the other major political parties may choose to focus on the wishes of students as the campaign continues.
Image: The National