Student maintenance grants in England

Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP): I thank Labour Members for securing this debate. We in the SNP believe in the principle of free education, and we stand in solidarity with students in England against the principle of scrapping grants. I did have a lot to more to say in the debate, but I shall be as brief as I can.

Other Members have referred to their own circumstances, and I shall do so, too. I moved from home in 2000 to go the University of Aberdeen. I graduated in 2004, having taken out a student loan. I started paying it back to a significant extent only on coming to this place in May. I pay back £400 a month. That is my obligation, so I pay it. If, however, I had left university with a debt of £53,000, and assuming I could start to pay it back right away at £400 a month, it would take me 11 years to do so—11 years in a very well paid job. The expectation that some people may not pay their loan debt back at all makes a mockery of the whole process. If a loan is not expected to be paid back, what is the point of giving people loans in the first place? It seems ludicrous. We are bringing up a generation that expects to be in debt, and society should guard against that.

In Scotland, we will try our hardest to make sure that education remains free and that grants are available, but this Government are putting our budget under increasing pressure by their actions. We do not know—they have not told us—what the impact of these decisions taken today will be on the Scottish budget. This has been designated as EVEL, but it clearly has an impact on students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are studying at Scottish universities. What will the impact on those institutions be? What consultation has the Minister had with universities in my constituency, such as the University of Strathclyde, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Caledonian University? He is not even paying attention; he is chewing his pen.

What conversations has the Minister had with my colleagues in Scotland about this measure? What impact will it have on members of larger families, and what impact will it have on Muslim students? The hon. Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) has raised that issue before. Some Muslim students cannot take out loans, and other students may not wish to do so either, for different reasons. My hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) mentioned cuts in the disabled students allowance. What impact will the added loan burden have on them?

Conservative Members have asked, “What about people who do not go to university? How do they benefit?” They benefit from the common good. Glasgow Caledonian University is a university for the common good. People in Scotland know that university graduates will become the doctors who treat them in hospitals, and the lawyers who represent them. They will become the well-qualified people who pay us back through taxation to help the common good of our country.