A new report finds that higher and further education remain "inaccessible" to many people in Scotland - and huge numbers of those who make it, consider dropping out because of financial pressures.
A survey by the National Union of Students Scotland suggests that, despite the scrapping of the graduate endowment, school leavers still see too many barriers to entering higher or further education.
The survey of 2,031 students throughout Scotland shows that more than a third have considered dropping out because of financial hardship. It also finds that students are three times more likely to drop out when they regularly hit credit card or overdraft limits. Financial hardship is more than twice as likely to force non-traditional students - those whose parents did not go to university - out of education, while they are 40 per cent more likely than others to consider dropping out because of high course costs.
In an introduction to the union's report, Scotland's Lost Opportunities, president James Alexander and depute Jane Little state that, while legislative changes such as the abolition of the graduate endowment have "essentially made education free in Scotland", more needs to be done to ensure that access is available to everyone. The union believes the prospect of a local income tax makes things "increasingly bleak", and is calling on the Government to ensure a minimum income of pound;7,000 per year through grants, loans and bursaries.
The report concludes: "The results of this research are extremely concerning and demand immediate and radical action to resolve. It is clear that obstacles to graduation exist well beyond freshers' week."