Committee rejects Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill

13/12/2007

The Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee has recommended that the general principles of the Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill should not be agreed according to a report published today.

The bill aims to repeal the legislation which came into effect on 3 May 2001 that requires Scottish domiciled and European students, who started their first full-time degree course at a Scottish institution on or after 1 August 2001, to pay a sum, currently fixed at £2,289, following the completion of their course.

  • Overall, while the Committee agrees with the intention of the bill to remove barriers to access to higher education, it does not agree that abolishing the Graduate Endowment (GE) is the most effective way of achieving that goal. Stage 1 scrutiny has highlighted a number of significant criticisms of the bill and a lack of alternative approaches to widening access to higher education.

However, the Committee suggests that there may be variable factors which discourage prospective students from deprived backgrounds undertaking higher education and highlights that under endowment arrangements there has been no significant reduction in the numbers of students from such areas. It therefore concludes that there is insufficient evidence to prove that that the abolition of the GE alone will contribute significantly to widening access to further education.

Committee Convener Karen Whitefield MSP, said:

“The Committee was evenly split on the matter and I used my casting vote to not recommend the general principles.

  • “The Committee believes that the funding required to be foregone so that the GE can be abolished would be better invested in other methods. This would help to retain a competitive edge in the delivery of high quality higher education and to widen access, including for example more funding directly for universities and in the current system of bursaries.

“The Committee remains unconvinced that the removal of GE goes far enough in removing barriers to access to higher education. In the Scottish Government’s second piece of legislation it has missed the opportunity to address the wider issue of student debt and alternative approaches to widening access to further education.”

Other key conclusions from the report are:

  • Evidence which states that part-time higher education students will not receive any benefit as a result of this bill as they are not currently liable to pay the GE, is also noted by the Committee. This will create a situation in which part-time students will continue to pay tuition fees, whilst full-time students will effectively receive their education free of charge.

  • The Committee notes the potential reduction of overall levels of student debt likely to be brought about by the abolition of the GE, should the Bill be passed. The Committee also notes the Scottish Government’s stated intention that this bill would be the first in a number of measures aimed at extinguishing all student debt. However, the Committee recognises that some witnesses held views that the abolition of the GE is not the most important measure that could have been taken. The Scottish Government could have used the legislative opportunity to introduce a more wide ranging bill to address the wider issue of student debt and financing of higher education and student support.

  • The Committee considers that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether the existence of the GE would be a significant factor in a student deciding they were no longer able to continue with their study for financial reasons.

  • The report also notes that in relation to Graduate Endowment the intention of the Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Act 2001 was that it should fund student support. Evidence presented to the Committee demonstrates that the majority (60.3% in 2007) of Graduate Endowment liability has been added to student loans rather than being repaid. Therefore, the Committee remains unconvinced that the 2001 Act achieved its aim of funding student support.

  • The Stage 1 debate on the bill will take place on the morning of Thursday 20 December.

Background

Voting record. For: 4 (Rob Gibson, Aileen Campbell, Christina McKelvie and Jeremy Purvis); against: 4 (Karen Whitefield, Richard Baker, Mary Mulligan and Elizabeth Smith). The Convener used her casting vote to reject the bill.

Aileen Campbell, Rob Gibson and Christina McKelvie dissented and the Committee agreed that their dissent be recorded as follows: “The SNP committee members note the potential reduction of overall levels of student debt likely to be brought about by the abolition of the GE, should the bill be passed. The SNP committee members also note the Scottish Government’s stated intention that this bill would be the first in a number of measures aimed at extinguishing all student debt. Furthermore, the SNP committee members support the principles of the bill based on the overwhelming evidence heard in the committee in favour of the bill.”

Jeremy Purvis dissented and the Committee agreed that his dissent be recorded as follows: “Jeremy Purvis supported the overall reductions in student debt to be achieved by abolition of the GE and thus supported the general principles. However, the Committee’s scrutiny at Stage 1 highlighted significant criticisms of the bill, including repealing the statutory duty of government to provide student support and that a wider student and higher education funding measure should have been brought forward.”

The bill aims to abolish the fee known as the Graduate Endowment for students who successfully completed their course on 1 April 2007 or thereafter. The bill provides for abolition of the GE by repealing the relevant sections of the 2001 Act (and revoking the principal regulations), together with the express extinguishing of liabilities by reference to the due date of 1 April 2008 and savings for certain prior liabilities.

As part of its scrutiny of the bill the Committee took oral and written evidence from a range of stakeholders, including representatives from the further education sector, student bodies and student funding agencies.

Stage 1 Report on the Graduate Endowment Abolition (Scotland) Bill

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