Recent years have seen a major spike in debt levels as ongoing austerity leaves many students struggling to make ends meet.
The Scottish Government insists that debt levels are far lower in Scotland than south of the Border where students must pay tuition fees of up £27,000 for their courses.
But opposition parties have criticised SNP cuts to student support, including bursaries and grants for students from poorer backgrounds.
They are now calling for the Government’s current student support review to deliver fairer support for students, particularly those from low-income backgrounds.
Labour education spokesman Iain Gray said: “Today in Scotland it is the poorest students who rack up the highest debt in Scotland. Those who start with the least end up owing the most. That’s not fair and it stops far too many young people getting a degree.
“The student support review will not be able to fix the SNP’s broken promise – but it can suggest a better system for the poorest students in Scotland in the New Year.”
The independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre has calculated that figures from the Student Loan Company showing a rise in borrowing levels from £6,070 in 2007-08 to £10,500 in 2016-17 represents an increase of 42.2 per cent in the period. The largest increase took place between 2014 and 2016 – when borrowing rose by 29.5 per cent. Scottish students don’t have to pay the annual £9,000 a year fees faced by their counterparts south of the Border. The average English student is now leaving university with an average estimated debt of £44,000 compared with £16,000 five years ago.
Minister for Further and Higher Education Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “Scotland continues to have the lowest average student loan debt in the UK. This Government firmly believes that access to higher education should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, which is why we remain committed to ensuring Scottish students studying in Scotland benefit from free tuition.”
She said ministers provide “appropriate financial support” for students and have increased the income threshold for the maximum bursary from £17,000 to £19,000.