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Wales/Scotland: debt comparisons in detail

April 29, 2014

This post provides more detail on the comparison of the borrowing expected in the Scottish and Welsh systems at low incomes, supplementing the tables in The Fairest of Them All? The figures are relevant to all Welsh students, wherever they study in the UK,  but only to Scots when they study in Scotland.  Scots leaving Scotland to study will be borrowing for the full cost of their fees, in addition to the figures shown here.

The graphs linked below show how for at least a third  of students from the lowest incomes (technical note A below), the Welsh system is particularly favourable for those doing the commonest undergraduate degree, which takes 3 years in Wales and 4 years in Scotland. 3 year honours degrees remain rare in Scotland. For low-income students, the Welsh system also performs well for those on one year (eg HNC) and 2 year (eg HND) courses.  For students on 4 year courses where full fees are payable for all 4 years (technical note B), the situation is more mixed, with Welsh mature students still generally facing less debt, but young students facing more.

These figures exclude the additional means-tested bursary funding provided directly by institutions, to which Welsh students will have much greater access (technical note C). There are plenty of examples where at this income range, such extra support is high enough  to remove any excess debt where this does occur. As these schemes are uneven in effect they cannot be easily included here, but leaving them out does mean these comparisons provide an incomplete picture and will tend to underplay the ability of low-income Welsh students to keep their debt down, compared to Scots in Scotland.

The figures shown as bars compare the difference where students take out their full package of support, which at these incomes is between £283 and £1033 higher per year in Wales, for students living away from home. The line graphs show what the difference would be if students in Wales only borrowed enough to have the same spending as a Scot.

The comparisons are different for mature and young students, because mature students in Scotland are on a lower grant rate and expected to borrow more.

This graph shows the position for mature students at household incomes up to £25,000. Wales comp Scotland – mature students graph

For these students, debt will be lower for those from Wales, unless (a) they have an income over £23,000 and are on a two year course (eg HND) – although even then the extra debt is due all or mostly to their having more to spend or (b) they are paying full fees for 4 years south of the border. For 4 year courses at incomes assessed as below £22,000, the extra debt is also all due to the extra spending they will have. Only around 5% of mature students seem likely to have incomes of £22,000 or more (technical note D).

This graph shows the position for young students at household incomes up to £25,000.  Wales comp Scotland – young students graph

For these students, before taking account of any institutional bursaries:

  • all Welsh students will have less debt if they who can complete their course in three years anywhere in Wales, England or Northern Ireland, when a student in Scotland would take  four;
  • Welsh students on one year courses will have less debt up to £22,000: over that figure, there is extra debt but it is all due to extra spending power;
  • Welsh students on two year courses will have marginally more debt, although under £22,000 the extra debt will all be due to having more to spend;
  • Welsh students paying full fees for four years will have more debt than Scots on four year courses, though around £17,000-£18,000 that will all be due to extra spending. For those on four year courses, the combined effect of fee discounts for years abroad or workplace placements, and access to local bursaries, will determine whether their final debt is lower in practice.


These figures compare the position as at April following the end of the course.  The further implications of the different loan schemes used in different parts of the UK are considered here  and here.

Technical notes


The figures provided are for the academic year 2014-15 and for full-time students.

The figures take into account the interest which will accumulate on loans while students study, up to the point when they become liable for repayment, in the April after they complete: this takes into account that the interest on loans is higher in Wales.   They also include the write-off of the first £1,500 of loan debt to which the Welsh Government is committed, which is takes effect once repayments start.

The figures are shown over the range £16,000 to £25,000. At all incomes between £0 and £16,999, the figures are the same and omitted simply to avoid compressing the graph.

The figures are for debt for Welsh students living away from home, excluding additional allowances for London.  Welsh students living in the parental home will have less debt, but also less to spend.  Scottish students are all on the same package, whether they live at home or away.  In every part of the UK, the majority of students live away from home, although the proportion living with their parents is higher in Scotland than elsewhere.

The full data is available here.Wales-Scotland debt comps up to £25k for blog

A            According to data from the SLC, in 2012-13, 38.8% of those under the latest grant arrangements for Welsh students were eligible for the full grant (household income up to £18,300), in Northern Ireland the figure is 39% (incomes up to £19,000) and England 45% (up to   £25,000). In Scotland 35% of Scottish students receiving support from SAAS were assessed as having an income below £20,000. In all jurisdictions some students will never seek government help, and these will tend to be disproportionately well-off. Even allowing for the data under-stating the number of better-off students, one-third is likely to be a cautious estimate of the proportion of students whose incomes are assessed as being under £25,000.

B             For four year courses, for the additional year spent abroad or on a placement in industry students will not pay the full fee and may have access to other living cost funding (such as ERASMUS programme grants). Fee reductions are not applied in a standard way.  However, for years abroad English universities are limited to charging no more than 15% of the fee.

C             Means-tested institutional bursaries or fee waivers are most extensive in England, where they are a formal part of the system. Around half Welsh-domiciled students study in England. There, bursaries of at least £1,000 a year are widely available up to incomes of around £16,000 and most schemes give support up to around £25,000.  Welsh universities offer such help more variably.  Scottish universities run a variety of bursary schemes, but for Scottish students awards under these are available on far more limited terms and rarely (if ever?) with an automatic link to household income.  The grids here provide a useful overview. The English grid suggests NSP awards are  usually limited to English students, but checking individual schemes shows that they are more often open to students from across the UK, though some  may offer lower rates  to Welsh students, to recognise they are receiving more government help with fees. In the Scottish grid, the means-tested bursaries are mainly limited to students from other parts of the UK who are paying fees and are not available to Scottish students.

D             The response to a recent PQ showed that 95% of awards under the Independent Student Bursary in 2012-13 were made to students at this income level, with very small numbers at each of the higher income points. It is unlikely that there are a large number of “missing” mature students from this data, except possibly some at lower incomes who are excluded from grant entitlement for reasons other than income.



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