Lib Dems play down split over endowments

February 6, 2004

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are playing down fears of a split with their Labour partners in the Scottish Executive over the future of the graduate endowment.

Just before the Commons vote on top-up fees, Jim Wallace, deputy first minister and leader of the Scottish Lib Dems, told The THES there were no plans to raise the endowment, currently £2,092, beyond annual inflation. But after the vote, Jack McConnell, first minister and Scottish Labour Party leader, would not rule out an above-inflation increase.

During first minister's questions in the Scottish Parliament, he said: "The graduate endowment will be discussed in the course of the spending review.

We're not going to make announcements six months in advance of the announcement of the budget for the next three years."

A Lib Dem spokesperson said this week that with the third phase of Scotland's higher education review about to report, it was wise for Mr McConnell to avoid ruling anything out.

But he underlined Mr Wallace's assurances that the graduate endowment was ringfenced for student support. There had been speculation that the executive might raise the endowment in a bid to give more funds to institutions. He said: "The only reason for increasing it is if it was going to increase the amount given to students."

Rami Okasha, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said the union would oppose any move to use the graduate endowment for tuition costs. But it would not necessarily oppose increasing the endowment levels if it meant more money for grants.

"We would have to be sure that [any change] was genuinely a better deal for Scottish students," he said.

The income threshold for repayment is expected to rise from £10,000 to £15,000 in line with student-loan repayments. Mr Okasha praised this as a move in the direction of the Cubie committee's original proposals, which suggested a £25,000 threshold.

Mr Wallace revealed that raising the threshold for student loan repayments could cost the executive about £17 million a year.

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