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NUS Scotland comments on latest student debt figures

Thursday 16-06-2016 - 11:34

NUS Scotland responds to official statistics released by the Student Loans Company today which show the average level of debt held by students at the point of graduation.

The statistics show that Scotland continues to have the lowest student debt in the whole of the UK, by a significant margin. However, this has been steadily increasing in recent years – in total, the amount lent to Scottish Higher Education students in 2015 - 2016 was £548.3m, an increase of 6 per cent on 2014-15, with an average amount per student of £10,500.  
 
It is important to note that these statistics refer to the average debt of students who entered loan repayment in 2016, i.e. those who actually graduated in 2015. As such, these figures do not yet include a full cohort of students who entered Scottish Higher Education under student support reforms introduced in 2013, which brought in higher loans for Scottish students, and will be expected to increase further in the coming years as we reach a full student cohort under these reforms and higher loans graduating in 2017.
 
Those reforms were fully supported by NUS Scotland as a means of securing increased and improved support for higher education students. However, now that the reforms have had time to bed in, and the full effects of the system realised, NUS Scotland has urged to Scottish government to review and reform the student support system to ensure the fairest system of support for all students, building on the previous work of the Commission on Widening Access.
 
Commenting on the figures, Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland President, said: “NUS Scotland worked incredibly hard to see increased student support, and fully supported previous reforms that saw the amount of support students could access markedly increase – but it can’t be escaped that this came through higher loans, rather than grants. While increases would have been preferable in grants, and no increases at all would have been unacceptable, it’s clear we need to look again at the support we provide for students, particularly our poorest and most in-need. Despite all the progress made during the last Parliament on improving our record on widening access to higher education, there’s still much more to do, and that must include addressing the financial support available to students.
 
“It’s right that we’ve maintained free education in Scotland, and these figures show that it’s played a big part in keeping higher education more affordable and debt levels down. But ‘free education’ can’t just be about the price tag, and we must look at the wider cost of studying. Without access to the necessary financial support, students are forced to turn to commercial debt, take on unreasonable amounts of part-time work, or even drop out of education altogether. That’s simply a huge waste of potential for students, and for Scotland as a whole. Equally, while student debt is going up overall, previous NUS Scotland research has shown that there’s a significant and worrying amount of students who, for whatever reason, avoid their loan support altogether and struggle by on small levels of grant they receive, if any. While previous support increases were welcome, we shouldn’t be timid in going further and reforming the support system for all students, in a bold and ambitious way.
 
“We were pleased this week to hear the Scottish government reiterate their commitment to a full review of the current student support system. That review could build on the work of the widening access commission, and ensure that we have the support in place to not just help people into education, but to stay there and reach their full potential. We hope that review is established as a priority, and look forward to playing a full role in it to ensure that we best reform support to enable students to succeed. However, while there are ambitious improvements we believe must be made – and we should not pass up this opportunity to do so – as these statistics show, there are short term issues that we must address for students here and now. We would hope any review could make short-term recommendations, ahead of the Scottish draft budget, with a view to longer-term, systemic reforms.”

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