Fears over mounting student debt in Scotland

More than half of students in Scotland have borrowed from commercial lenders such as banks or credit card companies. A survey has suggested 70% spent more than the recommended 10 hours a week in paid work to fund their studies.

The National Union of Students in Scotland, which questioned 6,217 people, called for the government to improve financial support. However the Scottish Government said it had already taken steps to help students.

The survey indicated 52% of students had used commercial lenders, 67% owed money to family or friends, 61% had taken out student loans and 31% owed money to all three.

Interest rates on commercial loans are relatively high

While historically low interest rates had helped with repayments to the Student Loans Company, which runs the student loan scheme, interest rates with other lenders remained comparatively high.

The survey claimed 44% of university graduates, 38% of postgraduates and 31% of college students considered commercial loans their “biggest concern”.

Claire Rackley, 23, who has just completed an HNC in legal services at Stevenson College in Edinburgh, borrowed £3,000 on a credit card in addition to a £1,000 overdraft and a student loan.

As well as full time study, she works 16 hours a week in a bank to try to pay off her debts.

“I do worry about money constantly,” she said. “I have had to take time off work due to stress. The thing I most look forward to is getting my student loan through so I can stop using my credit card but the minimum repayments eat up my income so I end up spending again.”

The NUS said it wanted the government to increase the minimum student loan available, increase the value of grants to poorer students and introduce a “Summer Holiday” grant to help students through the summer break.

Borrowing from credit card companies likely to damage students studies

Claire Baker, Labour’s further and higher education spokeswoman, said the results were depressing.

“This survey makes clear that it is borrowing from credit cards and bank loans that are the most worrying for students, and likely to be most damaging for their studies,” she said.

“Equally it’s clear that it is those from poorer backgrounds that are struggling the most which I find very worrying indeed. It’s clear that tackling commercial debt and student hardship must now be the priority for the government.”

The Scottish Government welcomed the NUS contribution to its consultation on the future of student funding.

Responding to the report, SNP MSP and Education Committee member Aileen Campbell said students had already been helped by the abolition of the £2,000 graduate endowment fee.

She added: “To tackle student debts the SNP has restored the principal of free education, increased hardship funding, reintroduced grants for part-time and post graduate students and has invested support in independent learning accounts to help Scottish learners fulfil their potential.”

Students from 18 higher education institutions and 21 further education colleges took part in the survey.

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