Ten years after the Cubie report led to the abolition of upfront tuition fees in Scotland, student hardship has reached "crisis" levels, according to a survey by the National Union of Students in Scotland.
About nine out of 10 students in further education colleges and universities say they have considered dropping out of their course because of inadequate financial support, the NUS reported this week.
The study found that:
- 61 per cent of students worry frequently or all the time about finance;
- 62 per cent said not receiving enough money was damaging their studies;
- 50 per cent had been forced to access commercial credit to get by;
- 68 per cent are employed for more than the Cubie-recommended 10 hours per week, with 47 per cent of these saying that combining a job with study was harming their academic work;
- 89 per cent cited "not having enough financial support" as a key reason for considering dropping out.
The report, Still in the Red, was based on a survey of 7,428 students (1,190 in FE, 5,283 in HE and 955 postgraduates).
The main concern for FE students was the uncertainty of the discretionary funding system: 45 per cent of students were not clear before starting their course how much support they would receive and 48 per cent were not confident their institution would have funding to support them until the end of their studies.
The survey found that 8 per cent of FE students had received a reduced rate of bursary due to shortages, and a further 26 per cent were unsure if their bursary had been reduced; 62 per cent said these financial worries were affecting their studies.
Non-traditional students, student parents and mature students reported higher levels of financial concern than traditional and younger students; they were also more likely to have considered withdrawal as a result. These concerns, the report says, are likely to be a factor in Scotland's poor record on widening access to education.
NUS Scotland says a "fragmented approach" to changes in student support has left it "inconsistent and inadequate", a failing which it says the recession has compounded.
Liam Burns, NUS Scotland president, said: "Real change is needed and, whether at college or university, full-time or part-time, young or mature, students will no longer tolerate an education funding debate which fails to address this urgent need."
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "Even before the recession hit, the Scottish Government recognised the difficulties students face. We abolished back-door tuition fees, invested an additional pound;30 million in student support for the coming year and worked closely with NUS Scotland to ensure this money is targeted as effectively as possible."
But she added that Scotland was facing huge cuts from the UK Government, with its budget forecast to shrink by pound;3.7 billion in real terms over the next four years.
Labour's higher and further education spokeswoman, Claire Baker, reiterated her party's call for an independent review of student support, claiming the report highlighted the SNP's failure to widen access to university and meet students' needs properly.
The report is set against a backdrop of Scotland having the lowest HE participation rates from the poorest backgrounds and from state schools in the UK. It also has the lowest student support levels, and is second only to Northern Ireland in its drop-out rates after the first year of university.
It comes amid speculation that England may introduce a graduate tax, following the Browne review. The CBI warned this week, however, that such a move could drive graduates abroad and break the link between students and their chosen university.