Borrowing by Scottish students has shot up by 69 per cent to £430 million, government figures have revealed. The announcement comes as the Scottish government cuts the grants that students can claim by 40 per cent.
The data also shows that it is the poorest students who are bearing the most burden of this increase in debt.
The publication of the figures follows cuts by ministers last year, including the introduction of less generous funding bands, which has caused less well off students to suffer.
Lucy Blackburn Hunter, a former civil servant specialising in higher education policy, confirmed the claims that poorer students were suffering more from the debt increase. She told The Guardian that the average loans from lower income families were £5610 per year, compared to £4340 for better off students.
“These are startling figures, and as a nation we shouldn’t be in the least bit proud of these,” she said. “Surely we’ve reached the point now where we take the debate about students grants as seriously as the debate about fees and free tuition.”
European figures have shown that Scotland has the least generous student grants of any comparable West European Country.
Kezia Dugdale, Labour’s education spokesperson at Holyrood said that the figures reinforced the need for a debate on Scotland’s education policy. She said: “We are in the position where Scotland is worst for the poorest students, worst for widening access and has the worst drop out rates in the UK.”
The education secretary, Mike Russell, argued that Scotland currently has a very generous package overall for student loans, saying that these loans allowed the government to continue to provide free tuition. He said:
“We remain committed to making higher education attainable for those from more deprived backgrounds and communities.”