On Wednesday, dozens of students gathered at a National Union of Students (NUS) rally outside of the Scottish Parliament.
The NUS organised the rally to show their discontent with the Scottish Budget for 2023 to 2024 and demand the government raise grants and bursaries, implement rent controls, subsidise transport for students, and reverse cuts to mental health funding for universities and colleges.
Ellie Gomersall, NUS Scotland President, said: “This Budget was an opportunity for the government to use its full range of powers to achieve truly progressive taxation so that the richest can support those who don’t have enough to survive – including students.”
The cost of living crisis goes far beyond students
The date of the rally coincided with the biggest strike day in over a decade, which saw half a million workers all over the UK walk out.
Wednesday was likewise the first day of the 18 days of strike action announced by the University and College Union (UCU), to whom Gomersall expressed support and solidarity, emphasising that “their teaching conditions are our learning conditions”.
Tash Miller, Stirling Students’ Union President, and Jess Reid, Stirling Students’ Union Vice President Communities, came to show their support too.
“As Vice President Communities, every day I see the effects that the lack of funding and poor support is having on our students in Stirling but also across the country. What we need is more support from the government to ensure that students aren’t exploited or treated like a commodity,” said Reid.
Housing as a top priority
The NUS is calling on the government to keep the current rent freeze even after 31 March, when it is due to end.
From April until September, landlords will only be able to raise the rent once by 3 per cent; however, there are no such restrictions for student accommodation.
According to recent NUS research, the average annual rent in both institution and privately owned accommodation is £6,853, leaving students with the highest financial support with £31 per week after paying their rent, while the lowest support does not cover the rent at all.
Better and more affordable housing is Miller’s priority: “Rent lowering is really difficult to get, but we’re fighting as hard as possible to get a much better deal for students that’s more in line with what they’re getting in SAAS, what they’re getting in maintenance, and what they can afford.”
Carla Poulaert, a Stirling University student and a member of Global Justice Stirling, said: “I have a lot of friends who didn’t manage to get a flat, I myself hosted people for a few months because they had no place to stay.”
Another Stirling University student and a member of the Stirling University Scottish Socialist Youth, Josh Parsonage, agrees that student housing is inadequate: “They’re not providing us with high quality accommodation, and on top of that it’s expensive, very expensive, so people are having to work jobs at unsociable hours when they’re meant to go out with their friends and on top of their studies.”
Students who run the Campaign for Affordable Student Housing (CASH) travelled to Edinburgh to fight for better housing from St Andrews.
Alex Vail, a member of CASH and a St Andrews student, came “to protest the absolutely appalling state of accommodation here in Scotland and across the UK”.
“The housing situation there [St Andrews] has gotten just absolutely appalling over the last few years, with the university increasing student numbers without providing adequate accommodation for the amount of students that they have,” said Vail.
Government to cut mental health counsellors’ budget
In terms of mental health, the NUS is trying to stop the Government from cutting the funding of counsellors in colleges and universities.
2023 marks the last year of the four-year scheme, which delivered 89 counsellors in total, exceeding the target of 80.
Susie Hare is a Stirling University student and a member of Student Action for Refugees, who came to protest the cuts to the mental health funding: “Cutting mental health supports? They are vital at universities, and I know so many who’ve been forced to wait for the help they desperately need, that’s only to get worse now?”
The NUS is collecting signatures in support of their demands. Their petition can be found here.
Featured Image Credit: Simi Borovska