Student support benefits record numbers

Net of eligibility has widened, but recession may be boosting demand

A record number of low-income students has benefited from funding support, according to higher education statistics published this week by the Scottish Government.

The overall increase of 1.9 per cent from 2009-10 to 2010-11 is attributed largely to a widening of the criteria for eligibility for support - including 18,000 independent students who last year received a bursary of up to pound;1,000 for the first time.

But statisticians also reported that the number of means-tested loans authorised had increased by 4 per cent and the amounts increased by 9.5 per cent.

"There is a possibility that the current UK economic climate is related to the increase in means-tested loan authorisations by the Student Awards Agency Scotland," said the report on higher education student support in Scotland 2010-11.

Education Secretary Michael Russell said the figures demonstrated the Scottish Government's commitment to widening access.

"With Scottish students currently having the lowest debt levels in the UK, we plan to further simplify and better target student support. As part of our plans for post-16 reform, the Scottish Government is working towards a minimum income for our students of pound;7,000, with those from the lowest- income families a priority."

The pound;571.9 million of support or loans authorised by SAAS is an increase of 7 per cent in real terms (36 per cent in cash terms) from 2001-02. Last year, the average support per student was pound;4,294, the highest in real terms in a decade.

The percentage of EU students receiving SAAS support for tuition fees has also reached its highest level in 10 years - 8.5 per cent, more than double the 2001-02 level.

Earlier this week, preliminary figures released by the university admissions service Ucas for 2012-13 showed a 15.4 per cent drop in applications for Scottish students to study in England and 10.2 per cent drop in Scots wanting to study in Scotland; the number of English students applying to Scotland fell by 4.5 per cent.

NUS Scotland suggested the figures were evidence of the confusion and fear of fees created by the Westminster Government's introduction of higher fees - even although the Scottish Government had decided not to introduce fees.

Universities Scotland said they suggested students were taking more time to consider their options.

Key findings

133,175 received support last year - an increase of 1.9 per cent from 2009-10.

pound;571.9 million was paid out in awards, tuition fees or authorised in loans by SAAS - an increase of 9.5. per cent from 2009-10

68,960 students received non-repayable awards - an increase of 13.3 per cent from 2009-10.

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