26 May 2005

Subject Debate: Student and Graduate Debt

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 26 May 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

Student and Graduate Debt

… … …


Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): In law, the ending of debt results in the legal status of "satisfaction". Would that things were so simple beyond the reach of the law in real life. Debt is the most powerful of slaveries. It is little wonder that the money lenders were the first people to be thrown out of the temple.

However, without debt, the modern world would not exist. The folding green stuff in our pockets represents a debt—the nice kind, which is the kind that the bank owes us. The notes tell us that the banks

"promise to pay the bearer".

Further, does not the slang phrase, "money in the bank" bring a warm glow to the heart of the beneficiary?

This Government, however, views provision of education not as a societal duty but as a commercial transaction. Because the individual benefits from education, the Government believes that the individual should buy that benefit. That attacks the roots of our society. Implementation of the Government's policy has had what I hope are unintended consequences.

The issue that we are discussing is a women's issue. I take this opportunity to congratulate two of the members who have so far spoken in this debate on the fact that they are not wearing dark suits. Every one of us, apart from Fiona Hyslop and Tommy Sheridan, represent a small and privileged minority and, with one exception, are men. To further illustrate the ways in which this issue is a women's issue, I will give some examples. By the time she retires, the debt of a female dentist—more than half the dentists who graduate are women—who works half-time for 25 years of her working life will have risen from the £18,000 that she started with to £40,000. The interest keeps racking up and, at 9 per cent under £22,000, the debt increases rather than decreases. Similarly, the debt of a female part-time primary teacher who works for 22 hours a week for 25 years will have risen to £40,000 by the time she retires. However, a person who gets elected to the Scottish Parliament at the age of 30 after having been a political researcher will have paid off their debt by the age of 40.

I must also encourage Duncan McNeil to be more accurate. Only one third of school leavers go to university; half of school leavers go into further and higher education combined. We must use language carefully.

We like to believe that, when we pass on our knowledge and skills to the next generation, we benefit society as a whole, not just the individuals who we have entrusted with our futures. Are we to become the only mammals on the planet who transmit our inheritance to our offspring conditionally, who refuse to equip our children with the skills that they need to forage, hunt and survive in the modern world unless they pay us, post hoc, for the privilege? I prefer morality to utility and a moral duty to educate over a commercial transaction. I choose liberation from want, freedom from ignorance and the avoidance of state debt for our next generation.


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