Poorer students face highest levels of debt

The NUS wants help to alleviate debt. Picture: John Devlin
The NUS wants help to alleviate debt. Picture: John Devlin
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Students from the poorest backgrounds in Scotland are continuing to complete their degrees with the most debt, latest figures from the Student Awards Agency Scotland reveal.

Last night Liam McCabe, president of NUS Scotland, said those from less well-off background finish their course with a debt of around £23,120 over four years and called on the Scottish Government to improve bursary support for the poorest students.

The figures show the number of students supported and the amount of support provided by the agency for those studying in Higher Education increased in the 2017-18 academic session.

The total amount authorised in loans was £528.4 million, a 2.5 per cent increase from £515.5m in 2016-17, at an average of £5,290 per student.

Meanwhile the total amount provided in non-repayable bursaries and grants increased by 8.9 per cent, from £70.1m in 2016-17 to £76.3m in 2017-18 – awarded to 53,620 students (up from 52,165 in 2016-17).

Mr McCabe said: “Today’s figures show a slight increase in the overall number of students receiving non-repayable support and students from the poorest backgrounds on average receiving marginally more money.

“While this modest increase is welcome, there is much more to do to reverse historic decline in levels of bursary and tackle mounting student debt.

“With the figures showing students in the lowest household income bracket still finish their course with the most debt – an eye-watering £23,120 over four years – it is clear the Scottish Government must now focus on improving bursary support available for the poorest students.”

Iain Gray, MSP, Scottish Labour education spokesman, said the Scottish Government’s proposals for reforming student support would do little to improve the situation.

“Too much of the student support package is weighted towards loans rather than grants and bursaries.

“This SNP government has slashed grants and bursaries which forces students to turn to higher loans.”

“The SNP watered down the recommendations of their own independent review of student support. That simply is not good enough.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott said: “The SNP were elected in 2007 on a commitment to replace loans with grants and to “dump the debt”. However, precisely the opposite has happened, harming efforts to widen access.”