4. FAIRER ENTITLEMENT TO SUPPORT
The options presented in the previous section illustrate how the additional funds could be invested. It is possible though that resources within the system could also be reviewed to ensure that current support is being targeted where it is needed most. We believe that there are some areas where further thought should be given to our funding priorities and where possible changes could be made to re-allocate resources to ensure that entitlement to support is fairer for all.
Support for Second HE Qualifications
In 2006-07 over £18 million was paid to around 6,110 students (5% of those supported by SAAS) with a previous qualification. Scotland is unusual in this regard as few other countries support second degrees in this way, unless they are aimed at specific priority areas. As this was all loan, if this support was removed we would save the associated costs in the Scottish Government's devolved budget - i.e. 31% or roughly £5.6 million. If such a move was introduced only for new students coming into the system, the saving in the initial year would be around £2.1 million rising to the full £5.6 million by the fourth year. This money would allow increased investment in new student grants.
We could consider new guidelines in relation to second degrees and limit maintenance support to 5 years for the majority of students 14. In addition to this, we could allow an additional year in exceptional circumstances which would allow 'false starts' (changes to course choices in the first year) or the need to re-sit a year. This would ensure adequate support was available for most courses and combinations of courses and it would remove general support for second degrees.
Such a model would also support different routes of study, allowing various forms of articulation from further to higher education or from Higher National qualifications to a degree. In other cases it would allow support for a degree and then some professional qualifications such as the PGDE conversion course for teacher training. Exceptions could be made where necessary to reflect longer courses or more complicated transitions. As fee support is only available for first degrees, with some exceptions 15, maintenance support could be offered on the same basis. This would allow us to continue to provide maintenance funding for some second degree courses in areas of strategic importance, as we do for fees.
If general support for second qualifications was removed then we could consider other options for funding such courses. Annex C sets out an alternative option based around the Career Development Loan ( CDL). Within the tight financial restrictions which we must operate, we have to face difficult choices. Therefore, we are taking this opportunity to ask if we should continue to support students on second degrees or whether there are fairer ways in which we could focus our available resources on improving the support package for those undertaking their first qualification (either by reducing debt or increasing income).
Impact of Economic Situation
While there is a sound rationale for considering such changes, it is also important at this point to consider one of the possible effects of the economic situation. If the economic climate results in increasing levels of redundancy or unemployment then we have to consider how we can help individuals unfortunate enough to face this situation by ensuring that there are opportunities available for them to engage in education during this time to allow them to upgrade their knowledge and skills or re-train in other areas.
In some cases this may be a matter of supporting people through a full second degree. However, in more cases it may be a matter of providing (and supporting students through) smaller, more flexible chunks of learning whether this is at sub degree, degree or equivalent or post-graduate levels.
While many of these avenues are outside the scope of this consultation, it would not be sensible to consider approaches for full-time higher education without considering whether the prevailing environment means that other options would be preferable. Government officials will be exploring a wide range of options around this in the coming months, but any views on how we consider addressing these issues would be welcome in this consultation paper.
What are your views on the options proposed to ensure that the funds available are used as fairly as possible to give students adequate support for their first degree?
Do you agree that we should consider removing student loan support for second degrees?
Alternatively, should we be maintaining funding for this group to explore more avenues to support opportunities to retrain or upskill those who may face redundancy as part of the effects of the economic situation?
All maintenance support is income-assessed and support is made up of three elements bursary, loan and a household contribution. There is a minimum loan available to all students regardless of the level of household income which is currently £590 at home or £890 away from home. In England, the situation is very different and the minimum, or non-income-assessed element of the loan is around £2,000.
There are currently 20,230 students who are only entitled to the minimum loan. This represents almost 17% of those supported by SAAS. If we were to abolish this completely so that those with household income over a certain threshold (£60,000 for students away from home or £53,000 for those at home) received no public support then we estimate that HM Treasury would save over £18.3 million a year in loan payments. This would mean a saving of around £5.6 million to the Scottish Government on the costs associated with loans. Once again, if such a move was introduced only for new students coming into the system, the saving in the initial year would be around £1.6 million rising to the full £5.6 million by the fourth year and again, this money may allow increased investment in any new grant.
While fully income-assessing grants would release funds which could be redirected at students from less affluent households, it would also mean that 17% of the learner population would receive no public support for maintenance. However, they would continue to have their fees paid.
Do you believe that there is a case for removing the minimum loan?
The final area that could be considered for review is the award of additional funds for travel expenses. We currently spend around £16 million annually reimbursing travel expenses to eligible students. It is assumed that an element of support for travel is already included the main living cost support (to a value of £155) and this is deducted from any travel expenses. It could be argued that all travel expenditure should be part of the overall living costs support. This is the position elsewhere in the UK where students are for the most part expected to pay for their own travel from their mainstream support. Only those on placements that require them to study away from their parent institution receive any help.
We could consider transferring the budget for travel expenses and using it to increase the overall level of the main grant pot. This would increase the overall amount of income available, but in future, students would have to meet their own travel expenses from this. Clearly some students would benefit more than others from such a move, as there are a wide range of different travel patterns. By placing this support into the main fund though it would remove a layer of complexity from the student support system. However, we would need to consider the impact of such a move on the ability of those from more remote areas to continue to access higher education.
Do you think that support for travel expenses should by subsumed into the main grant pot or should it remain a separate, claim-based fund?
Should we differentiate between day-to-day travel expenses and trip to and from home from those who stay away from home?