Students in Scotland taking on more debt, reveals SAAS

Written by Tom Freeman on 31 October 2017 in News

Students Awards Agency Scotland reveals £834m in financial support paid out to to students in last academic year

Lecture hall by Ian Barbour

Students in Scotland are claiming more student support than ever before, including taking on more debt to finance their studies in higher education, latest statistics by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) have revealed.

In total, £834.8m was paid in bursaries and grants or loans for the 2016-17 session.

Students from the poorest backgrounds take on bigger loans than those from wealthier families.


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Overall, the total value of loans awarded was a record £506m, at an average of £5,300 per student. This has more than doubled in the last decade.

Meanwhile spending on non-repayable bursaries and grants increased by 4.7 per cent to £70.1m last year, but represents a drop of around a third since 2007.

Higher education minister Shirley-Anne Somerville welcomed the figures.

“This government is investing a record amount in student support – up 3.6 per cent to £834.8 million last year,” she said.

“As a result, more students are benefiting from free tuition and the maximum level of grant.

“We are also seeing more students from the most-deprived backgrounds entering higher education.”

An independent review of student support is underway and is set to report back to the Scottish Government this year.

Luke Humberstone, President of NUS Scotland, said today’s figures showed the system needed “root and branch” reform.

“There’s growing consensus that a system that sees the poorest students take on the most debt is unsustainable,” he said.

“If we want to achieve the targets we’ve set ourselves in creating an accessible education system, we have to ensure we have a support system which works for all students.

 “It’s absolutely right that the Scottish Government continues to maintain their commitment to free tuition, but this doesn’t mean our education system is free. Increasing uptake of loans to meet living costs means average graduate debt is to reach record highs in the coming years.”

Scottish Labour education spokesperson, Iain Gray, said: “These figures show again that too much of the student support package is weighted towards loans rather than grants and bursaries. Rather than abolish student debt as the SNP promised, they are saddling the poorest students with even more.”

Tavish Scott, Liberal Democrat education spokesperson, called the figures “troubling”.

“Student debt has soared on the SNP's watch and bursaries and grants have been decimated. Fewer students are getting them and they are receiving much less,” he said.

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