18 September 2012

Higher Education

In this column in August, I discussed the arrival of exam results for school students in Scotland and the multitude of options and opportunities young people in Scotland have. Developments since have ensured that, in particular, higher education has not left the headlines.

Figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that a record number of young Scots will attend University in Scotland this year. This is as a result of the best ever school exam results, which have opened the door for 22, 292 Scottish students to go to Scottish Universities. This is before including the 3000 unprocessed applications, and the potential for entry through the UCAS clearing system.

However, there is more to this story than high achieving young Scots. Scotland has a long and proud tradition of access to high quality education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay. In fact, the Scottish Government recently announced that, as well as maintaining free tuition, legislation is to come into force in 2013 which will ensure that students from low income families have access to a living income through bursaries and loans, all students will be eligible for a student loan of at least £4500 and part-time working students who do not earn over a £25k threshold will receive full support for tuition fees.

Ensuring access to free higher education is not only a source of great pride for Scotland, the only country in the UK to provide this, but also an economic boon for our country, and an invaluable investment for the future. This is because it is the same bright young Scots who attend university this year, that emerge as top-level graduates in fields from science and engineering to the arts, social sciences and medicine who we will look to in the future.

To take a specific example, it was revealed this year, after the Scottish Government funded an additional 1000 places at the University of the Highlands and Islands, that for every £1 invested in the institution, the equivalent of £4 is returned to the Scottish economy.

Evidently, this is money well spent, and with more bright students full of potential entering higher education every year, they will be in an excellent position to take their place at the heart of Scotland’s economy in the coming years.


The Scottish Government has always been an outspoken defender of frontline healthcare and brought in a target of reducing senior management positions in the NHS by 25% by 2015 to ensure frontline services are protected. The latest figures show that since March 2010 a drop of 16.1% has been achieved so far, which demonstrates that we are well on our way to achieving the target.

The reduction in senior management positions comes as figures show that the NHS workforce in Scotland is 2.6% higher than it was in September 2006 before the SNP took office, while there are also more qualified nurses employed by the NHS in Scotland since that time.

The SNP is committed to protecting frontline healthcare and ensuring that people in Scotland continue to receive the exceptional level of care they currently get from the NHS. Drawing this sort of balance is never easy, but at a time when resources are tight, it is more important than ever that frontline healthcare is the top priority. You will not find many people who would not agree that money should be used to employ health staff ahead of senior managers.

The fact that the NHS in Scotland is effectively independent shows what we can achieve when decisions are made by a Scottish Parliament, 100% elected in Scotland. Of course to truly protect Scotland’s health service from the spending decisions of the Tory-led coalition, we need the normal powers of an independent country.

4 September 2012

Marine Renewable Energy

Scotland’s huge renewable energy potential is world-renowned and the envy of many of our neighbouring countries. A large part of that potential is at sea and with so much dramatic coastline, Scotland enjoys 25% of Europe’s wave and tidal potential energy. Hence, it is not just for their unspoiled beauty that our coastal areas are so valued.

To make the best use of this resource, we must continue to develop the very best in wave and tidal power technology. However, while the rough seas around Scotland’s coast provide some of the greatest concentrated wave and tidal resources in the world they also present considerable challenges for development, installation and operation of marine energy technology.

To support research and development in this key sector, the Scottish Government has announced this week that five marine energy developers are to benefit from £7.9 million funding to further develop testing of new wave and tidal prototypes in the seas around Scotland.

The second round of WATERS (Wave & Tidal Energy: Research, Development & Demonstration Support) funding is to enable Scottish developers to capture an increased share of the growing international marine energy market, which could be worth up to £4 billion to Scotland’s economy by 2020.

Over and above this, the Scottish Government has unveiled the four companies competing for the £10m clean energy Saltire Prize. The largest renewables innovation award of its kind, the Saltire Prize will be won by the team that achieves the greatest volume of electrical output in Scottish waters over a continuous two-year period, using only the power of the sea. Three of these projects will be based in the Pentland Firth & Orkney Waters, while the Oyster wave energy converter will be deployed off the Isle of Lewis.

These, and other innovative renewable energy systems are vital components in achieving the Scottish Government’s ambitious renewables target of meeting the equivalent of 100 per cent of gross annual electricity demand entirely from renewables by 2020.

2011 was a record breaker, with enough green electricity being produced in Scotland to comfortably beat our yearly target. Indeed, Scotland met almost 40 per cent of the UK’s renewables output in 2011, demonstrating just how much the rest of the UK relies upon our energy.

Scotland is currently at the cutting edge of marine power technology and the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney (a world leader, which hosts more devices than at any other single site in the world) demonstrates how far this young and expanding industry has come in recent years. The investment in pioneering technology and Saltire Prize challenge have helped draw international attention to the planet-saving potential of wave and tidal power, and will serve to drive the development of similar large-scare, commercial marine electricity generation from which we can all benefit.

Renewable energy offers our country incredible opportunities and this investment is our latest step towards the reindustrialisation of Scotland. There are already more than 11,000 people employed in jobs linked to Scotland’s renewables industry and key to bringing in future jobs and investment is to ensure we remain at the forefront of innovation, which is why these projects are so important.

The long-term boost to our economy that these technological developments could bring simply cannot be underestimated and, with Scotland’s tradition of marine expertise in high demand, the future is bright for Scotland’s on- and off-shore engineering industry.

Stewart Stevenson
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