STUDENTS from across Scotland have gathered outside Holyrood to protest “chronic underfunding” in the education system.

The president of the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland, Ellie Gomersall, led a rally which included speakers from numerous trade unions and student leaders from several universities, as well as Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy and former Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie.

NUS Scotland have previously said the Scottish Government’s draft budget for 2024/25 would result in £100 million cut to higher and further education in Scotland and called for it to be reversed. 

Speaking after the rally, Gomersall said that “chronic underfunding” had left students with no choice but to protest.

“These budget cuts come after years of chronic underfunding,” she said.

The National:

“And they will be felt particularly harshly by Scotland’s colleges.

“The Auditor General for Scotland said before Christmas that the Scottish Government needed to take urgent and serious action on colleges and these cuts show a failure to understand that.

“Meanwhile, in our universities we have principals earning salaries several times larger than the First Minister’s.

“Both Edinburgh University and Glasgow University have billions in reserves, which is also far more than the Scottish Government is legally allowed to hold.

“So, it’s very clear that not only do these cuts need to be reversed, but we need to transform our education system into one that’s genuinely sustainable and fully funded.”

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Placards which read “Tax the rich, not our Unis” and “Save our education, stop the cuts” were held aloft by students in the crowd as Gomersall led them in a chant of “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”.

The Scottish Government highlighted that it had increased the annual support package for students and was committed to ensuring free tuition remained a reality.

A spokesperson said: “It is right that we are taking strong action to support students through the cost of living crisis with an enhanced student support offering which ensures people receive the support they need to attend university.

“Along with our firm commitment to free tuition, this is ensuring access to university in Scotland remains based on the ability to learn and not the ability to pay.

The National:

“That is why we are seeing a record number of Scottish students being accepted to our universities, a record numbers of full-time first degree entrants coming from our most deprived communities and why Scotland has the lowest student debt levels in the UK, almost three times lower than in England.

“New measures announced this week will provide support for students over the Summer months, following the recent £2400 increase to the annual support package which sees the main undergraduate funding package rise up to £11,400.”

Gomersall told The National that it was “worth giving some credit to the Scottish Government” but added that ministers needed to do more.

“The increase to student support is going to make a huge difference,” she said.

“But it’s not good enough to give with one hand and take away with the other.

“Last year, the Scottish Trades Union Congress published a report which showed the options the Scottish Government has got within the powers of devolution to raise additional revenue to fund public services like education properly.

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“It shows that the Scottish Government’s hands aren’t tied despite the cuts coming from Westminster also being a huge issue here”.

Barry Will, the president of the University of St Andrews student union, told The National that the cost of living crisis was making life for students in Scotland incredibly difficult.

He said: “I can’t quite express just how difficult it is to be a student these days.

“Over the last two years rent has absolutely skyrocketed, food and groceries have gone up, and students relying on government funding who perhaps can’t work many hours of a job are being left at the bottom of the pile, unable to prioritise their education.

“There are students that are unable to feed themselves, who can’t afford to put the heating on and, in some ways, it’s fair to describe it as a humanitarian crisis.

“There’s so many young people being left destitute because of the failures of this government”.

It comes after bosses at the University of Aberdeen announced their intention to eliminate single-honours language degrees, including Gaelic, after announcing deep cuts to the modern languages department.