There is a great and largely unnoticed injustice in todays Britain. The government is pursuing a policy which discriminates against people because of their nationality and against the poor. If this was being done by the UK government my Twitter feed would be full of outraged Scots decrying the evils of a Tory government – but it’s not. This is the policy of the liberal, enlightened progressive Scottish government. One that is entirely shameful – institutionalising discrimination against the poor and the English (and Northern Irish and Welsh). Try to imagine what the reaction would be if the boot was on the other foot and the UK government paid for EU students to study in England, but refused to pay for Scots!
A shorter version of this articles appears in todays Scotsman
The Scottish government is in a generous mood. They recently announced that EU students who start their studies in 2018/19 would have their tuition fees paid by the Scottish taxpayer for the duration of their whole course. The announcement from education secretary, John Swinney, was greeted with multiple tweets from SNP politicians, welcoming the move and rejoicing in this progressive pro-European policy. And why not? It shows, as a spokesperson said, that we ‘value and appreciate our EU students’. University principals in Scotland have warmly welcomed the proposal – Professor Timothy O’Shea of Edinburgh for example stating “we welcome the recent announcement by Scottish Government that EU nationals enrolling in 2018-19 have been guaranteed free tuition for the duration of their entire course. “ I confess I have a personal interest – as a Europhile minister in a multicultural church I love having people from Norway, France, Germany, Italy, Estonia, the Netherlands and Poland in my church and we would love to have more. And yet I regard this policy as being flawed and immoral.
Discrimination Against the English/Northern Irish/Welsh – Firstly the provision is quite selective. Despite what Professor O’Shea said it does not include all EU nationals. It specifically excludes English, Welsh and Northern Irish. As a chaplain at the University of Dundee I know that without the students from the rest of the UK we would be in big trouble. Again from a selfish point of view my congregation has a significant number of Northern Irish students. So I simply ask – don’t the Scottish government and University principals value and appreciate UK students as much as they do from the rest of the EU? When I asked Universities Scotland the reason for this discrimination they stated it was a pragmatic response to UK government policy and that there was a need to manage demand from the rest of the UK.
But what about managing demand from the rest of the EU? In 2002/3 EU students made up 4.5% of the Scottish University population. By 2012/13 it had almost doubled to 8.7%. And it is the prestigious big city universities that are proving the most attractive. The number of Scottish students at Edinburgh Uni fell to 40.5% in 214/14 whilst the number of EU students rose to 10.3%. In Dundee the number of EU students from 4.6% to 8.7%. The proportion of EU students in Aberdeen increased from 16% to 21%, and in Glasgow from 11.4% to 14.4%.
Excluding Poor Scots
The trouble is that these extra EU students are not extra students for the Universities. The number of students at Universities is capped by the Scottish government, which means that the thousands of extra EU students are not only being paid for by the Scottish taxpayer, but they are preventing Scottish students from attending Scottish universities. Only 8% of students at the Universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and St Andrews are from the poorest 20% of the Scottish population. There are now more EU students paid for by the Scottish government at these universities than there are poor Scots!
When Michael Russell, the Scottish Government Brexit spokesperson tweeted that Heriot Watt were worried about Brexit because they would lose EU students, I asked why these students could not be replaced by Scottish ones. His response? “Scottish budget not limitless – each Scottish student paid for by Scotgov”. But so is each EU student! And yet after this, the Scottish government, who stated that they could not replace EU students with Scottish ones because they did not have the funding, have found the funding to extend their largesse to EU students. Meanwhile they have slashed the maintenance grant for poorest students by 20% and cut the number of college places by thousands.
EU Above All
Why is this happening? One SNP politician tweeted after the announcement that he hoped EU politicians would now be nice to Scotland. This was a silly tweet, and I suspect does not reflect any real Machiavellian tendencies in the government. Do the Scottish government think that the Scottish secondary education system is failing so badly that there are not enough qualified Scottish students to fill our universities? Again I suspect not. What is going on here is that the obsession with the EU seems to have so taken over the government that it cannot see the wood for the trees. They have forgotten that their primary responsibility is for the people of Scotland, and especially the poor.
They should not be providing free tuition for the European middle classes. Because make no mistake, this is not providing for the poor from the banlieus of Paris, the northern suburbs of Athens, or the southern areas of Bucharest. Europe’s poor cannot afford the travel, and maintenance and probably do not have the education to study a full-time course in an English medium University. No – this is the Scottish government paying for the already educated European middle classes to come and be educated here at the expense of the Scottish taxpayer. And doing so by depriving Scottish students of University places and discriminating against English, Welsh and Irish for no reason other than their nationality. Is this how a ‘progressive’ government should behave? Have you ever noticed how ‘progressives’ talk a lot about the poor and sometimes do ‘cool charitable community’ work, but always create societies which suit the liberal middle classes and discriminate against the poor?
The trouble is that the Scottish Governments Higher education policy is geared towards the wealthy and biased against the poor. Universities are being run like corporations, with CEO’s on corporate style salaries who are seeking to bring wealthy customers from the UK, the EU and Scotland. In theory the poor are wanted. In practice they are discriminated against.
Pawns in a Game
As a first step towards trying to deal with this, the government should rescind their discriminatory policy immediately and instead of using EU, Scottish, and UK students as political pawns in a their EU game; they should seek to take advantage of the opportunities Brexit offers. Imagine if these thousands of EU students who are so desperate to come to Scotland to study, actually paid for the privilege, as they do in England? Millions of pounds would be realised for Scottish universities. This is not a Little Scotlander policy. Why not use some of that money to provide bursaries for the poor from Scotland, the EU and even further afield? Unless of course the Scottish government believes that these students are only coming here because we pay for them?
We need to stop subsidizing the EU middle classes, make those who can afford it pay, and seek to subsidise and support those who cannot. Scottish taxpayers should subsidise Scottish students first of all, and the poor from other nations second. Let the wealthy who want to come here from other countries pay for the privilege so that we can support the poor from home and abroad to take advantage of our wonderful Universities! Now that would be a sign of a progressive government that cared about education for all. I wonder which politicians will bite the bullet on this one – will any of the SNP dare to break free from their chains and challenge party policy? Will the Tories and Labour overcome their fear of (superficially) being seen to be against all those nice middle class EU students? Will the Lib Dems remove their EU tinted glasses and challenge the obvious injustice of this discriminatory policy? Will anyone not only speak but act for the poor?