SNP announces £9m funding for 3000 additional student places

Originally published in The Herald, 16/10/2009

Three thousand additional student places are to be ­created in this academic year, Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop has announced.

Ms Hyslop said the Government was providing £8.6m to support the scheme with the money being split between student loans and grants and university fees. Although some courses have already started, her spokesman said universities had made extra places available in anticipation of the extra funding.

Ms Hyslop made the announcement yesterday at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness at the SNP’s annual conference.

She told delegates the increase of 3000 places was a 10% rise in student numbers.

She said: “These student places are focused on those crucial Stem subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths. Our universities have responded positively and flexibly to the increase in applications we have seen as the recession has bitten.

“Changes introduced in 2006-07 removed restrictions on the number of science technology, engineering and maths places and introduced greater flexibility in the number of places in most other subjects.

“Universities have now seized this opportunity to contribute to Scotland’s economic recovery.”

Ms Hyslop also announced that teaching of Scottish his­tory and culture was to be given “its rightful place” in schools. Teaching support material covering 200 Scottish history topics is to be launched next month so teachers can give pupils an understanding of “our nation’s history and place in the world”. The material will also go online. Ms Hyslop said: “From pre-history through the Wars of Independence, the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution, every pupil, every citizen, will have access to world-class resources detailing our history.”

The Education Secretary also claimed the Government would deliver its school building pledge next year – a year early. Ms Hyslop said 236 new or refurbished schools had already been achieved in two-and-a-half-years.

She said: “We said at the last election we would match Labour’s promise of 250 new or refurbished schools brick for brick. I can announce that we will hit the 250 milestone by summer 2010 and deliver on the pledge a full year early.”

First Minister Alex Salmond, opening the conference, claimed the SNP has never been closer to achieving independence for Scotland.

He warned that parties who oppose an independence referendum could suffer at the ballot box. He said: “Do parties in Scotland really believe that the people of Scotland will give them their vote if they refuse to give the people of Scotland a vote on the constitutional future of the country?”

However, Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray claimed the SNP had “lost the argument on independence”. He said: “The polls are running at less than 30% support and no amount of hot air from Alex Salmond can change that fact.”

Cosla President Pat Watters said he was troubled with the term “National Education Service” in Ms Hyslop’s speech to the conference, saying it could be easily misinterpreted by her Concordat partners. He said he would want to clarify with the Cabinet Secretary that she meant a shared vision and seamless delivery of education from birth to death and not a centralised delivery of the education service.