With just one week to go until the General Election, HEPI is asking the political parties for their views on higher education issues. We are asking the same 5 questions to all parties.
The third post in our series comes from the Scottish National Party (SNP). These answers were kindly provided by Carol Monaghan – SNP candidate for Glasgow North West.
How do you think undergraduate study should be funded?
Undergraduate study should be funded by the state. A well-educated society has benefits for us all. It is a lazy argument to say that those attending university will be paid more and therefore should fund their own education. My university education enabled me to spend 20 years teaching physics in Glasgow. As one of five children from a working class background, fees would have precluded me from studying beyond school. I am concerned that exorbitant fees in other parts of the UK will prevent students training in key areas. For example, the removal of the nursing bursary in England has led to a sharp decline in the numbers of student nurses; a very worrying situation.
Will you introduce any policies to tackle the decline in part-time learning?
As a teacher I know that part-time courses are evolving and that there are many different learning models that can be tailored to suit individual circumstances. In Scotland part-time courses continue to be funded by the Scottish Government and continue to be popular. However despite this, we still have vacancies in many part-time courses in certain subject areas, e.g. STEM. I believe we need to take a more serious approach to encouraging young people to consider careers in STEM, be that through part or full-time courses.
If you win, what approach will you take to university research?
University research is vital to our development worldwide and in the U.K. we are world-leading in many areas. Healthcare, environment, technology and communications all need quality ‘blue skies’ research to be carried out, and the majority of this work takes place in our Higher Education institutions. However, I do not believe this research is valued or well enough funded in the U.K. We lag behind many of our competitors in terms of funding and support. The model we have of research teams continually applying for funds, means that expertise is diverted from the actual projects, and long-term planning becomes difficult. I would like to see more stability of funding streams over longer periods of time to ensure our research groups can continue to punch above their weight.
Will you encourage higher education institutions to continue bringing together students and staff from all over the world?
The diversity and multiculturalism of our Higher Education institutions enrich both the institution and the wider community. In Scotland we value the contribution of our international staff and students both from the EU and beyond. However this sector is facing a damaging assault from the Tory Government. The scrapping of the post-study work visa is a blow to the sector which has seen large reductions in the number of international students coming from certain countries. Furthermore in Scotland we suffer from emigration and depopulation. Being able to attract the best international talent to study and work in Scotland is vital for our economy and future success.
Brexit is compounding this situation. Since the vote to leave the EU last June, I and my SNP colleagues have been persistent in our calls for guarantees to be given to EU nationals living in the U.K. Many of these people are working in HE. Nearly a year after the vote, this Tory Government has shown astounding recklessness in refusing to guarantee full rights to EU nationals. Thankfully in Scotland the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon has made strong statements of support to EU nationals, welcoming their contribution to our society and assuring them that the Scottish Government, alongside SNP MPs, will continue to fight for their rights.
What do you see as the main purposes of the university system?
University is of course about educating the future workforce and training them in particular skills. But for me, university is about developing outward-looking global citizens, aware of the commonality and of course the diversity that enriches us all. Regardless of the chosen path of study, to have our citizens educated to university level benefits our society greatly.