Report on Edinburgh University public meeting

The JournalEdinburgh University Rector speaks in favour of free higher education

By Neil Bennet, The Journal 26 February 2008

Edinburgh University Rector Mark Ballard has called on the Scottish Government to improve the state of university funding, warning that prospective students could be put off studying by the cost of higher education and the sector’s poor financial outlook.

Students at the University of Edinburgh hosted a public meeting entitled “Where next in the battle for a free, fair and funded education system?” on Thursday 21 February.

The event featured Mr Ballard, Vice President Academic Affairs candidate Andrew Weir, and Scottish National Party MSP and member of the Scottish Parliament Education Committee, Aileen Campbell.

Mark ballard and Aileen Campbell

The meeting was held jointly by the Edinburgh Young Greens, the Socialist Society and Scottish Nationalist Society at the university, ahead of the final reading of a bill to scrap the Graduate Endowment, due to take place at Holyrood this week.

Mr Ballard, who is a former Green Party MSP, spoke about fees and debt putting many young people off going to university and about the need for widening access.

He said: “Spreading knowledge is a good thing, having an educated society is a good thing.”

Mr Ballard also challenged the Scottish Government to match with public funding the additional money English universities will be receiving through the charging of top-up fees.

Ms Campbell, who at 27 years old is the youngest member of the Scottish Parliament, admitted that she was still paying off her own student debts of around £15,000.

She said: “If we were an independent country we could make [the] decisions, and be able to fund free education.”

Mr Weir, who was speaking in his capacity as Secretary of the Socialist Society, said: “There is a discourse being created in this country, one that says that free education is a really nice idea, but that there’s just not the money to pay for it, and after all the world doesn’t owe us a living.

“Strangely enough, the people that say this are very often members of the political party that took this country to war in Iraq, that signed up for the second generation of Trident nuclear submarines, and that have plans to bring in ID cards.”

A demonstration by students is planned outside the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 28 February to put pressure on MSPs before the final vote on scrapping the £2,289 graduate endowment.

The vote is expected to be close, with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Greens supporting the move. Labour and Conservative MSPs are expected to vote against the motion.


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