Poorer Scotttish students are being forced to take on higher loan burdens to get through their studies as bursaries and grants are slashed, official figures have shown.
Youngsters from low income backgrounds are borrowing almost £6,000 a year – about a third higher than fellow students from better off families – prompting accusations that the Scottish Government’s policy of free tuition is not doing enough to provide poorer students with the help they need.
Student leaders last night called for an “improved support system” to help the least well-off.
The amount of grants and bursary funding has been halved in the past five years – falling to £63.6 million last year from £127m. The number of individual students who receive this support is also down by more than 16,500 during this time to 52,315.
Over the same period, the number taking out loans has jumped by almost 10,000 to 88,985 – with the amount lent more than doubling to £469m last year. Labour spokesman Iain Gray said: “Thousands of young people from poorer families who have the grades to access the best courses can only get the extra support they need by borrowing more. That simply isn’t good enough.”
The Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) figures show students from poorer backgrounds have larger loan burdens, amounting to £23,480 over four years. The figure was calculated based on average incomes. Those with incomes of up to £16,999 had an average loan of £5,870; those with an income of over £34,000 had an average loan of £4,600.
Vonnie Sandlan, president of NUS Scotland, said: “We need look at how we can get increased grants to students, for the poorest students particularly.”