Education Minister Mike Russell faces criticism from unions over reforms
Scottish News: Scottish government criticised over ‘coherence’ of education reforms
by Jamie Mann
Scottish government plans to reform colleges could render further education in Scotland “nationally incoherent”, according to the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).
Now in it’s first stage, the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill promises to regionalise Scotland’s further education, bring governance and make clear as to how education is provided and young people’s involvement in the process.
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The Scottish government believes that the regionalisation of further education will eventually bring savings of £50mn a year, expand access to universities for young people from poor areas and cater courses toward employer specifications.
However, the EIS, which represents college lecturers, said that the “complexity” of the bill would “confound” readers.
In a statement to the Holyrood education committee the EIS said:
"If it's the government's wish to create a nationally incoherent FE (further education) structure with a myriad of different types of colleges, governing bodies and funding mechanisms with separate regulations for each, then this bill is the way to go about it.
"The complexity of the proposed structure will confound all but employees and public policy experts."
The SNP government “has failed to give staff and staff trade unions a larger role to play in colleges and their governance, which will not help the success of these reforms.” according to EIS.
Another provision of the bill would bring in a cap, limiting the fees that Scottish universities can charge students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to the same level as their home country.
Currently, in order to remain fair across the UK and remove the motivation of profit, universities can charge up to £9,000.
However, the 12 governing bodies of universities in Scotland have asked for the option to set their own fees.
The call has so far been rejected by two unions in the education sector.
National Union of Students (NUS) president Robin Parker said that the group’s call demonstrated “how out of touch the people involved in university governance are with the students they are supposed to serve, and with the Scottish public. To remove the cap completely and let the market rip through our system would be incredibly damaging."
Similarly, Mary Senior, of UCU (University and College Union) Scotland said that university chiefs “only seem to be interested in turning a profit, not defending our educational values."
Scottish Education Debate
The Scottish government’s overall education policy has been criticised by opposition in Scottish Labour.
In a speech at Gorbals church in Glasgow, deputy leader Labour leader, Anas Sarwar said that the SNP rely “relentlessly on free tuition fees while ignoring the needs of pupils from the most deprived areas who have little or no chance of getting to university.”
However NUS President Robin Parker criticised Mr Sarwar’s statement, the Journal Reported.
Mr Parker, who also called the Scottish government’s decision to cut colleges by £24.6mn this year unacceptable. He said:
“It’s extremely disappointing to see the Scottish Labour Party, yet again, seeming to threaten to introduce tuition fees into Scotland. Scottish Labour stood on a manifesto pledge ruling out any kind of fees ‘up-front or back-end’ for higher education in Scotland and every single Scottish Labour MSP signed up to a personal pledge to students to rule out tuition fees.
“Their assumption seems to be that many of our poorest people don’t currently have the talent or potential to make it to university. That’s not just offensive, it’s wrong, and plays to the worst of many right-wing commentators.”
SNP Education Secretary Michael Russell was quick to hit back against the comments, calling the speech a reprise of Labour politicians breaking a pledge.
Mr Russell highlighted Labour’s previous support for NUS Scotland’s ‘Reclaim your voice’ pledge to not introduce tuition fees in Scotland which was backed by the party during Johann Lamont’s leadership, and a “no price tag on education” quote on the party’s website.
The education secretary said that Miss Lamont was facing a “Nick Clegg moment” over tuition fees.
Mr Russell said:
“Johann Lamont faces her own, personal ‘Nick Clegg moment’. In a single vote in Parliament, she can vote with the SNP and back no tuition fees, or she can vote with the Tories and betray the principles on which she was elected.
“Her own party’s website boasts of ‘no price tag on education’. Now, we will find out whether she will live up to that boast.”
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