Nicola Sturgeon has come under fire over “broken promises” on ditching student debt in Scotland as it emerged this now stands at £2.7 billion
This makes it the Scottish Government’s single biggest financial asset, Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said yesterday, and comes after it emerged this week that grants and bursaries have been slashed in recent years.
The First Minister insisted the package of support students in Scotland receive is the best anywhere in the UK.
She also pledged the SNP would not scrap bursaries for the poorest students, saying this was in “sharp contrast” to the Conservative government at Westminster.
Ms Sturgeon came under fire after the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) this week published figures which showed £64.9 million in bursaries and grants were awarded in 2013-14.
The Scottish Labour leader said: “Under the SNP government, the average student bursary or grant has been cut by almost 30 per cent and it’s the poorest students who are suffering.”
Ms Sturgeon insisted: “We have the best support package for students in the whole of the UK. Those are not actually my words, they are the words of NUS [National Union of Students] Scotland.
“The number of students receiving support is higher than ever before and the average support provided is higher than it has ever been.”
Ms Dugdale, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and their Liberal Democrat counterpart Willie Rennie all quizzed Ms Sturgeon on the support students get at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood.
Ms Dugdale said: “When you look specifically at the student support for the poorest students in Scotland, that is the worst of all the four nations of the United Kingdom.”
The SNP had promised to get rid of student debt in the run-up to the 2007 elections at Holyrood but it is a pledge that remains unfulfilled.
Ms Sturgeon said average student debt is far lower in Scotland than the rest of the UK. She added: “When you look at average student loan debt, what you find is the figure for Scotland is significantly lower than any other part of the United Kingdom.”
Average student debt in Scotland £9,440 – compared with £21,180 in England.