Students’ hopes, uncertainties and university support revealed to Minister on visit to Queen Margaret University

Students attending universities from across Edinburgh met the Minister for Higher and Further Education; and Minister for Veterans, Graeme Dey MSP, to share the range of challenges and opportunities they face as undergraduates, in a visit to Queen Margaret University Edinburgh on Thursday 20 April.

Universities across Scotland offer active support to their students in a range of practical and pastoral ways to ensure a positive and successful student experience. The importance of this is heightened by the cost-of-living situation, coming so quickly after the pandemic.

The event, hosted by Queen Margaret University, was a chance for students to speak to the new Minister alongside QMU Principal and Universities Scotland Vice Convener Sir Paul Grice and Universities Scotland Convener and Principal of the University of St Andrews, Professor Dame Sally Mapstone. Students from Queen Margaret University, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University, and Heriot-Watt University participated in the discussion with the Minister.

During the meeting, Mr Dey heard from students who discussed the current student experience including such issues as: the transition into university from school or college or elsewhere; mental health and wellbeing; academic and career development support; and cost of living challenges. During the conversation, students discussed what support they received from their university.

After the meeting, Graeme Dey MSP said:

“Today’s visit was incredibly useful and also very uplifting. It’s great to hear about the positive things that universities are doing to support their students and to hear the extent to which that’s appreciated. The way in which support is tailored to the individual is very striking. It isn’t just a generic service so it’s clear there’s a range of support that’s offered that’s tailored to meet the needs of the individual and that’s exactly what you would want.”

In addition to student support, students also discussed with the Minister aspects of the university experience that they have greatly enjoyed, such as career development opportunities and placements.

Hosting the visit, Sir Paul Grice, Principal of Queen Margaret University and Vice Convener of Universities Scotland said:

“It was excellent to welcome Mr. Dey to Queen Margaret University this morning. His willingness to engage with universities and speak to our students as one of his first visits as Minister sends a positive message to universities, students and staff.”

Public funding for this wide spectrum of activity and support comes primarily to universities from the Scottish Funding Council’s teaching grant, which also has to cover teaching – as the name suggests. The current teaching grant does not cover the full cost of teaching and support activities. Teaching at Scottish universities is cross-subsidised from international student fees to make it stretch further and cover the full range of student-focused activity; from the essential to the life-changing opportunities.

Principal of University of St Andrews and Universities Scotland Convener Professor Dame Sally Mapstone reflecting on the event said:

“Being at university is a significant rite of passage for many students. They are transitioning from home to university; from guided study to independent study; from a life dominated by family or carers  to a life dominated by friends. Universities have both a responsibility and a desire to surround the teaching and study opportunities  they provide to students with structure and clearly signalled support. It always helps to hear directly from our students what is working for them and what we can try to do better.”