Europe 2020: Scotland's National Reform Programme 2019

A summary of the actions taken by the Scottish Government in 2018 and 2019 in pursuit of the Europe 2020 strategy.

Chapter 6: Education

The Scottish Government shares the European Commission's ambition of improving education levels, Scotland's Economic Strategy highlights the importance of investment in education and skills in driving long-term improvements in competitiveness and in creating economic opportunities for all.

This chapter sets out the activities being undertaken across Scotland to equip our young people with the knowledge and skills to flourish.

Europe 2020 headline targets:

Improving education levels, in particular by:

  • Reducing the rate of early school leavers to 10% from the current 15%.
  • Increasing the share of the population aged 30-34 having completed tertiary or equivalent education to at least 40% by 2020.

Current Scottish Performance

Current Scottish performance against the headline EU targets and the relevant National Indicators to education is presented in Table 4.

Table 4 - Current Scottish Performance Against Education Indicators


Current Level

Change Over Year

Reference Period

Proportion of 18-24 population who are early leavers from education and training


2.8% pts decrease


Share of the population aged 30-34 having completed tertiary education


2.5% pts decrease


The proportion of young people in learning, training or work

91.8% 16-19 year olds were participating in education, training or employment

0.7% pts increase


The proportion of working age adults that have low or no educational qualifications (SCQF Level 4 qualifications or below)


1.1% pts decrease in proportion of adults with low or no educational qualifications


As indicated in Table 4, the share of the population aged 30-34 having completed tertiary education has decreased over the year but still well exceeds the European Commission's target of 40%; and the proportion of early school leavers decreased over the year and is close to the Commission's target of 10%.

Raising Attainment And Addressing Inequalities Of Educational Outcome

The Scottish Government is fully committed to raising attainment among all children, but particularly those from low income backgrounds. The First Minister has made it her personal commitment to raise the bar and close the gap in education to give all children and young people the same chance to realise their full potential. This informs all of our policies that affect children and young people.

Scottish Attainment Challenge

The Scottish Government's Scottish Attainment Challenge aims to achieve equity in educational outcomes with particular focus on closing the poverty related attainment gap continues in 2019-20. It is backed by the £750 million Attainment Scotland Fund (ASF) over the course of the current parliament, prioritising improvements in literacy, numeracy and health and well‑being for pupils impacted by socio economic disadvantage. As part of this, in 2019‑20, every local authority area in Scotland will for a third year benefit from £120 million of Pupil Equity Funding which will be allocated directly to over 96% of schools based on estimated free school meal registrations. In addition, over £60 million from the ASF will be assigned to Scottish Attainment Challenge programmes to provide targeted support to specific Scottish Attainment Challenge authorities and schools in areas with high levels of deprivation; to care experienced children and young people; and fund a number of national programmes including support for staffing supply and capacity, professional learning and school leadership.

Education Maintenance Allowance

The Scottish Government has retained the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) in Scotland to provide financial support to eligible 16 to 19 year olds from the lowest income families, enabling them to stay in education and learning beyond the school leaving age. In January 2016, the programme was expanded to include part time non advanced college courses and the income thresholds were increased. 31,675 school pupils and college students received EMA payments in Scotland in the academic year 2016-17. The total amount spent on EMA payments in 2016-17 was £24.6 million. Of this, £17.3 million (70.1%) was paid out to school pupils, and the remaining £7.4 million (29.9%) paid out to young people attending college.

School Attendance - Promoting Engagement

The Scottish Government works with local authorities, schools, pupils and parents to highlight the potential risks of disrupting learning by absence from school. The Scottish Government published guidance on attendance for local authorities and schools "Included, Engaged and Involved Part 1: Attendance in Scottish Schools" in 2007 which provides guidance on how to promote engagement and motivation, including among those who may be at risk of poor attendance. In Scotland, the attendance rate in publicly funded schools has remained relatively stable since 2010‑11, increasing from 93.1 to 93.7% in 2014-15 then decreasing slightly to 93.3% in 2016-17.

Supporting Students And Widening Access

The Scottish Government is committed to developing a highly‑skilled and educated workforce, and is taking steps to ensure that people from all backgrounds have the support to reach their full potential, including:

  • In further education, full‑time students are currently able to receive a means tested non‑repayable bursary of up to £98.79 per week. The 2018‑19 student support budget is at a record high of over £111 million in college bursaries, childcare and discretionary funds.
  • The Scottish Government is committed to providing student support. The current higher education funding package includes an annual minimum income of £7,625, through a combination of bursaries and loans, for students with a family income of less than £19,000, and a student loan of £4,750 a year, which all students are eligible for. Part‑time students with a personal income of less than £25,000 are eligible to receive a grant towards tuition‑fee costs.
  • Eligible students taking 'taught' postgraduate diploma and masters courses in Scotland can apply for a tuition fee loan of up to £5,500, in addition to a living cost loan of up to £4,500. Over the academic year 2017‑18, £882.7 million of student support, covering tuition fees, grants, bursaries and authorised loans, was allocated through the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) to 147,920 full‑time higher education students.
  • Ensuring that access to higher education remains free for eligible Scottish-domiciled students, we invested over £1 billion in Scotland's higher education sector in 2018-19. In addition, the latest Scottish Governments Draft Budget proposes this level of investment in universities continues in 2019-20.

We responded to the Independent Review of Student Support in June 2018 and committed to a range of improvements to financial support for students in FE and HE. From 2018-19, we have ensured that every care-experienced student under 26 at college or university receives a full £8,100 non-repayable bursary to help finance their studies.

In 2019-20, we will increase and expand access to FE and HE bursaries for students from the lowest income families. In FE, we will increase and expand access to FE bursaries by increasing the FE bursary to up to £4,500 per year and introducing a 'Guaranteed System' of FE bursaries. In HE, we will ensure that the poorest students receive increased bursary support and increased access to bursaries through improvements to the HE bursary threshold, increasing from £19,000 to £21,000. We have also committed to raising the repayment threshold for student loans to £25,000 from April 2021.

The Scottish Government is committed to widening access to higher education. We established the Commission on Widening Access and accepted all 34 of the recommendations in its final report, A Blueprint for Fairness, which was published in March 2016. To coordinate and monitor delivery of the recommendations we have established an Access Delivery Group. The Group is chaired by the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science and brings together all those with a responsibility for implementation of the recommendations, those leading delivery projects, and other key stakeholders.

The Group also provides a forum for strategic discussion with the sector on access. In line with the Commission's recommendations we appointed a Commissioner for Fair Access in December 2016. The Commissioners' second annual report will be published in summer 2019. The Commissioner is also leading the development of a Scottish Framework for Fair Access. This online toolkit and community of practice, will be launched in early 2019. It will help access practitioners plan and evaluate new ways of helping people from disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher education.

Supporting Older Learners

The Scottish Government is taking action to support older learners. For example:

  • The Scottish Funding Council's Outcome Agreements ask colleges to remove barriers and support full participation and successful outcomes for all groups of learners in their local community.
  • Older learners are well represented amongst all college students:
    • For those aged 25 and older, the number of funded full‑time enrolments at college has increased by 41.9% (to 19,175 in 2016-17) since 2006‑07.
  • Older learners in further education are benefitting from record levels of support. The 2018-19 budget of over £111 million in college bursaries, childcare and discretionary funds is a real‑terms increase of 33% since 2006‑07.

Investing in Scotland's Learning Environment

The Scottish Government is also committed to increasing student and staff mobility, and promoting Scotland as a learning nation. Scotland's participation in ERASMUS+, the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport for 2014-20, helps to raise the profile of Scotland as a place to live, work and study in key overseas markets and to showcase the best of Scottish higher education to the world.

Participation is of considerable value in providing people in Scotland with the opportunity to learn new skills, develop their confidence and broaden their horizons. Since 2014 proportionally more students from Scotland have taken part in Erasmus than from any other country in the UK. The inclusion of support for areas such as adult education and youth volunteering is of particular importance because it provides valuable opportunities for mobility to those who too often have few opportunities to spend time studying or working overseas.

Across the UK, ERASMUS+ is delivered by a consortium of the British Council and Ecorys. British Council estimates published in February 2018 show that to date, almost €65 million has been awarded for 658 successful projects led from Scotland, in sectors such as higher and adult education, schools, youth, and vocational education and training.

Brexit: What's at stake for Education?

Membership of the EU has been hugely beneficial for the people of Scotland over the past four and a half decades providing opportunities to learn which may not have otherwise been available to them, and Scotland has benefitted both culturally and economically from those that have chosen to come here to live and study. The UK's withdrawal from the EU will have an impact on everyone in Scotland. This may include:

Loss of access to Erasmus+ programme: The Erasmus+ programme has played a significant role in broadening the education experience, and increasing employment prospects for young people in Scotland. The programme has also supported access to vocational education and training, adult education, schools education and youth work, which are necessary for Scotland's society and economy to thrive. In its proposal for the next Multiannual Financial Framework the European Commission has suggested doubling the level of funding for Erasmus+. This clearly demonstrates that expanding the Erasmus+ programme is a key priority for the EU, and demonstrates what Scotland may miss out by leaving the EU.

The Scottish Government's position is that Scotland should continue to enjoy the full benefits we enjoy through our current membership to the programme, and are making this case strongly to the UK Government.

Impact on Higher Education: The potential loss of free movement of EU citizens could have a direct bearing on the ability of universities and research institutions to attract and retain the very best international talent and to support research and innovation. A diverse student population is also highly valued for its social, cultural and educational impact, including an enriched learning experience and international outlook among home students and graduates, and the development of an international network of alumni.

The impact of Brexit is aleady being shown through a reduction in applications from EU students to Scottish universities, raising concerns about the longer term impact of Brexit on the diversity of our student population. That is why the Scottish Government supports the UK's continuing membership of the single market and access to programmes such as Erasmus+, to ensure that we can continue to share learning with our European neighbours and our institutions and society continue to benefit from the significant contribution made by those from the EU.



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