The poorest students in Scotland are seeing their debt burden climb to an all-time high, a new report has warned.
The latest Scottish Government figures show almost 20,000 of the least well-off Scottish students are taking out an average loan of nearly £6,000 a year to fund living costs. Meanwhile, less than 2,000 better-off students took out an average loan of £4,600 a year.
Low-income students given bursaries – which don’t need to be paid back – have fallen by nearly 1,000 since 2014, while government funding for the grants has fallen from £65 million to just under £40 million over the last decade.
Critics of the SNP government point out that while access to higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds in Scotland has improved, it is doing so at a slower rate than in England.
Since 2013, Scottish student debt has almost doubled, from £254m in 2013 to £467m this academic year.
It is generally thought this spike in loans is the result of Scottish Parliament reforms in 2012 that dramatically reduced means-tested grants for accommodation and living costs, replacing them with eligibility for a higher loan.
This means many Scottish students have been able to access more money in the short-term but that their long-term debts are mounting.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government instructed all universities to increase the number of students accepted from the poorest 40% of communities. But opposition politicians at Holyrood fear that lumping students from poorer backgrounds with more debt will simply put them off altogether.
A cohort from the University of Stirling is currently in London for the march organised by ‘The National Campaign against Fees and Cuts’, and is the biggest delegation from any Scottish University.
Union President Andrew Kinnell is in attendance, sharing on his official Facebook page this morning the hashtag for the march: #GrantsNotDebt.
The campaign is seeking “living grants for all”.
By Dan Vevers