Labour pledges £19m for university places

Jim Murphy meets Harry Nolan-Martin and his mum, Lyndsay. Picture: Neil Hanna
Jim Murphy meets Harry Nolan-Martin and his mum, Lyndsay. Picture: Neil Hanna
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THREE high schools in the Capital would share a £19 million funding pot aimed at ensuring no pupil misses out on a place at the best universities, under new plans announced by Labour.

Jim Murphy, the party’s Scottish leader, announced the pledge after attacking what he described as the “scandal” of children being “locked out” of Edinburgh University and other leading institutions of higher education.

He said a cash fund – understood to be worth almost £19m – would be injected into three city secondaries with the lowest number of pupil admissions to top universities if Labour wins the 2016 Holyrood election.

Mr Murphy declined to identify which campuses would benefit but it is thought 
Craigroyston and Castlebrae community high schools, together with Wester Hailes Education Centre, would be among the first in line for additional investment.

The plans – funded by the introduction of a 50p rate of income tax on salaries of more than £150,000 – would see chartered teachers with enhanced professional training drafted into targeted schools, which will also be turned into community learning hubs equipped to provide literacy and numeracy skills to parents.

And Labour bosses have revealed they want to double the number of classroom assistants in feeder primaries.

The promise of additional cash came as new data showed only 130 Scottish applicants accepted by Edinburgh University as first year undergraduates were from the poorest 20 per cent of the population.

By contrast, 722 students hailed from the least deprived 20 per cent.

Figures also revealed the number of Scots at Edinburgh University fell from 8309 in 2011-12 to 8014 in 2014-15.

Mr Murphy said: “[The gap is] pretty substantial – I am trying to bridge that attainment gap by intervening much earlier.

“It can’t just be down to the universities to bridge it. It needs action from the Scottish Government. I want children to have the chance to go to the best universities in the country.”

The Edinburgh cash was announced as Labour pledged to spend an extra £125m on 20 schools across Scotland and bring in new laws in a bid to stop children from poor areas being “let down”.

A spokesman for Edinburgh University said 1011 of 2270 of Scottish entrants in 2013 were from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds, adding: “Students with academic ability and potential should be able to gain admission and succeed at university whatever their circumstances.

“In addition to our flexible admissions policy, the university offers a generous range of bursaries to students from Scotland and the rest of the UK, based on household income, distributing more than £6m to 2100 students in 2013-14.”

‘It shouldn’t matter where you’re from’

MOTHER-OF-THREE Lyndsay Nolan-Martin told how beginning university after leaving Castlebrae High at the age of 16 helped transform life for her and her family.

The 37-year-old from Craigmillar is enjoying her first year of a BA Honours degree in criminology with law at Dundee University. She said it was inspiring to enrol after health problems caused by endometriosis and narcolepsy stopped her from pursuing higher education for several years.

She said: “The number of obstacles I’ve had in my way since early on has been terrible but the support I’ve been given has meant that I managed to get there.

“It’s really benefited me and my family. I think it’s important for anybody to be able to follow this. Your background and where you come from shouldn’t matter.”