More than 50,000 students apply for financial assistance since 2012

23 December 2017, 06:03 | Updated: 23 December 2017, 06:10


More than 50,000 students have sought financial help from Scottish universities over the past five years, according to new figures.

Research by the Liberal Democrats found there have been 53,326 applications for financial assistance received by university authorities since 2012/13.

However the number, revealed through freedom of information requests, has fallen from 12,433 in 2012/13 to 9,772 in 2016/17.

The party highlighted Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) figures showing that since 2007/08 the value of student loans has increased by 175% while the sum of bursaries and grants has fallen by a third.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott MSP said: "These figures show that in the last five years, tens of thousands of students at Scottish universities have had to reach out to university authorities to say that they are struggling to keep their heads above water.

"The SNP were elected on a clear commitment to replace loans with grants and to "dump the debt". On the SNP's watch's student debt has instead soared and bursaries and grants have been reduced.

"Fewer students from poorer backgrounds are getting help and those that do are receiving much less, despite inflation and accommodation costs rising. This is a desperate record.

"This new information shows the problems that these cut backs have caused and repairing them should be a priority for the SNP Government."

The Scottish Government said the SAAS figures also show total student support rose 3.6% year-on-year to £834.8 million in 2016/17, with the average student support at £5,830 per student.

A spokeswoman said: "This government is investing a record amount in student support and our action to help students who need additional financial assistance the most has resulted in thousands more qualifying for a bursary or increased bursary funding.

"Furthermore, our commitment to free tuition means that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students studying in Scotland do not incur additional debt of up to £27,000 and average student loan debt here is the lowest in these islands.

"We are giving active consideration to what more we can do, in light of the recommendations of the independent review of student support to fundamentally change the way students are supported financially.

"We have already committed to raising the repayment threshold for student loans to £22,000 and reducing the maximum repayment period to 30 years and have set aside an additional £5 million in the draft 2018-19 budget to begin implementing its findings."

SNP MSP James Dornan said: "These figures are strong evidence of the SNP's positive record on supporting our students.

"Ever since the level of support students are entitled to was increased, the number of people claiming financial assistance has fallen dramatically each year - despite the numbers of students generally rising over this same period.

"Contrast this with the approach in the rest of the UK, where the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government condemned students to tuition fees of over £9,000 - a policy gleefully carried out by a Labour government in Wales."