GRANTS MIGHT return for poorer students in Scotland. That could be the result of the political crisis over education funding that has swept the country. It would be a huge victory that could detonate a massive fight to bring back grants for students in England and Wales. The prospect of the return of grants is a result of the crisis facing the Scottish Executive.
The Scottish Parliament was elected earlier this year with a clear majority opposed to tuition fees. In order to secure a coalition with the Liberals, New Labour agreed to an inquiry into higher education funding - the Cubie Committee. Now Cubie is likely to tell the Scottish Executive to 'think again' over both grants and fees when it reports in December. If Labour refuses to act, it could tear the coalition apart.
An initial report from Cubie last week said that the loudest message from the committee's consultation process so far has been that maintenance grants must be restored. 'There has been overwhelming support for the reintroduction of maintenance grants for students from low income families,' says Andrew Cubie. 'This issue has been more frequently mentioned than the issue of tuition fees.' Now Labour MSP John McAllion has drawn up proposals for grants, and some Scottish Executive members are said to be in favour.
There is talk of a compromise over fees. That would not be good enough. The proposals being floated would mean that only a tiny minority of students would get a grant. Many would still face fees and a mountain of debt after they leave college. But any concessions over grants could be used to intensify the fight against fees and for the return of grants to England and Wales. There would be turmoil if students in Scotland were to get a grant while students in England and Wales did not.
Julie Quinn is a first year student at Glasgow University. She says, 'I'm from a low income family so I don't pay tuition fees. 'I've not had any of my loan through yet, but it is only about £70 a week anyway. My rent is £50 a week. I only survive because I work in a casino every Friday and Saturday night from 8.30pm to 4.30am. Last weekend, when the clocks went back, we had to work an extra hour for nothing! It is a nightmare, but I couldn't afford to go to university otherwise. Bringing back the grant for Scotland would be excellent. But the most brilliant thing would be the knock-on effect for England and Wales.'
Her friend Elaine agrees: 'Why should people suffer so much? We definitely need occupations to do something about this. Everyone is against tuition fees and in favour of grants. Everyone is angry about what is going on.'
Close down the colleges to join London march
THERE IS already an electric atmosphere about fees and grants in many colleges. Thousands of students are not paying their fees. There have been big, angry marches over fees in Oxford and Edinburgh, and over rent increases in Cambridge. Students are now forced to apply for a loan. Yet some 40,000 students have not yet received a penny from the Student Loans Company! There is chaos when students ring up to find out what has happened to their application form. Thousands of students are forced to flog their guts out in low paid, part time work to survive.
'It is complete madness what is going on. People are starving. It's got to change,' says a student. That kind of feeling is why students report massive support for the NUS demonstration against student poverty in three weeks time. Students at Goldsmiths' College in south London plan a one day shutdown of the college in the run up to the march. 'We're going to organise picket lines and close everywhere down,' says a student.
At Lancaster University ten coaches are planned to bring 500 students to the march. At Bristol University there is talk of booking a train to take 1,000 students to London. Five coaches are booked from Liverpool and coaches are planned from Bradford Community College. 'Posters are up in all the windows of the college,' says a Bradford student. At South Bank University the student union has already told the college that many students will not be at their lectures on that day, and it has organised a fundraising event on the night of the demo.
Some colleges are also organising Defend Free Education rallies to build up support for the march. Students everywhere need to ensure transport is booked now and to push for the maximum turnout. That means canteen meetings and going round the lecture theatres and halls of residence.