OPPOSITION to the introduction of loans was widespread in Scotland 30 years ago. Newly released Scottish Office files include a lengthy memo from the Scottish Union of Students, whose president George Foulkes is now minister for international development.
The SUS warned of the administrative costs in running a loans scheme, but stressed that its concern was social rather than economic. "At a time when this country is gradually moving away from an elite system of education towards a system within which the benefits of higher education are becoming available to all, it would be a regressive step to introduce a system whose effects would seem likely to reduce the demand for places in institutes of higher education."
A loans system would militate against first-generation students, who were unlikely to have parental guarantees, and would therefore be much less likely to want to incur a large debt. The proportion of female students, "who may not expect to remain in the labour force for very long", would plunge. Students would probably shift away from arts courses to subjects closely linked with well-paid jobs, such as accountancy.
The Scottish Schoolmasters Association warned that a loans scheme would not be "socially just, educationally economic or nationally beneficial", adding that it would be impossible to repay loans from schoolmasters' salaries. The Scottish Schoolteachers Association said there must be "complete parity between Scottish and English students" in any student support system.
But the Scottish Housewives' Association at its annual meeting agreed with the government on loans. This led to a hasty letter from the Department of Education and Science saying there was a "misunderstanding", and that it had an open mind on the subject.