STUDENTS WHO have gone through higher education in Scotland now owe more than pound;1.8 billion in loans, according to figures revealed this week.
More than 350,000 borrowers, from Scotland or other EU countries, have built up the debts, figures from the Student Loans Company show.
Each student now has average debts of around pound;5,300.
The amount lent to students in Scottish higher education in 2006-07 was Pounds 197.6 million, bringing the total owed to pound;1.846 billion.
Loans paid out dwarf current repayments, which last year amounted to Pounds 51.5 million, of which pound;12.2 million of this was paid earlier than required.
Of the 352,000 borrowers, 249,000 had started paying off their debt. And in the last financial year, 8,600 paid off in full at least one of their accounts.
The pound;1.8 billion of student debts in Scotland is 10 times less than the pound;18 billion owed in England, according to the latest available figures for England from June this year.
Fiona Hyslop, the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning, said the figures justified recent moves by the Nationalist administration to lower student debt.
In June, the minister announced plans to scrap the graduate endowment. This replaced upfront tuition fees, which were abolished for Scottish students studying in Scotland from autumn 2000. The money from the graduate endowment goes into a central pot which is then used to pay bursaries to poorer students.
This week's figures showed pound;12.1 million was lent to students for the endowment in the last financial year.
Ms Hyslop said: " pound;1.8 billion of state-sponsored debt is not good for the individuals concerned and not good from a public finance point of view. The Government believes this is wrong. That is why, starting with the abolition of the graduate endowment, I will work to remove the burden of debt from our students."
The minister hopes to pass legislation at Holyrood on the graduate endowment by the start of April next year. Fifty thousand students would be among the first to benefit, she said.