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Borrowing hardest to avoid for mature students and low-income young degree students

June 9, 2014

It was already possible to show from the published data that those at the lowest incomes were most likely to take out a loan, with 88% of those assessed as nil income (mainly mature students) and 79% of those at incomes below £10,000 borrowing.  These figures are for 2012-13, the latest year for which the information is available. The average take-up rate for Scottish students was 67%.

A recent parliamentary answer allows this data to be divided further between students on degree and “sub-degree” courses (the latter are mainly HN students, who equate very closely to those in FE colleges).

This shows that  take-up rates are highest for nil income students on sub-degree courses, 91% of whom take out a loan, with an average new borrowing that year of £5085.  Mature students are strongly concentrated in that group.  At the next lowest incomes, where young students make up the majority, it is those on degree courses who are more likely to borrow, with take-up rates of between 77% and 82% at incomes up to £30,0000.  Sub-degree students are between 63% and 74%.  The actual amounts borrowed at degree and sub-degree do not vary much within income categories,  however.

The likeliest reason that mature students and low-income students on degree courses are more likely to borrow is that they have less opportunity to reduce their borrowing by living with their parents.  Degree provision is less likely to be located within an affordable, practical commuting distance of students’ homes than college-based HNs and the content of particular degree courses is more specific to individual institutions.  Both of these mean that to do the course they want, degree students are more likely to have to live away.

At incomes over £30,000, the individual income categories become less reliable.  For all students over this income, plus those who did not provide income details because they claimed no means-tested support,  the take-up rate was 47%  for sub-degree students and 59% for degree students.  At these higher incomes, it seems plausible that higher family contributions are the principal reason students make less use of loans.

Why does this matter?

It is sometimes assumed that living cost loan is more “optional” than fee debt, not least because, it is asserted, students can reduce their costs by living at home.  These figures are a useful indication that the possibility of  not borrowing is not only less of a reality particularly for mature students and those from poorer homes generally (we knew that already) but it is also less of an option for those who want to study to degree level, almost certainly because living at home would create a greater constraint on their ability to study.   So, the poorer you are and the higher the level to which you wish to study, the more likely it is you will have to borrow, reinforcing the tendency of the Scottish system to entrench inequality.

The figures also remind that in 2012-13 the variation round the average of £3115 was wide: between £5085 and £1964 in this breakdown (and £0 including the non-borrowers). We will not know for a few more months what pattern the 2013-14 figures show.  These will reveal the effect of the grant reductions and higher loans which came in this academic year.

Background figures


All Sub-degree Degree
Income as per SAAS data Take up rate Average Take up rate Average Take up rate Average
% £ % £ % £
Assessed as nil 88 4965 91 5085 85 4865
< £10k 79 3715 74 3705 82 3721
£10,000 – £19,999 73 3625 66 3695 77 3595
£20,000 – £29,999 74 3565 63 3495 78 3587
Over £30k* 57 1983 47 2093 59 1964
Total 67 3115 65 3715 67 2902


*Includes all those who did not declare their income to SAAS: EU students removed from the totals for income undeclared.

Sources: All from SG statistics October 2013, linked above – take-up rate calculated by author; sub-degree from PQ response S4W-20192: answered 27/03/2014, linked above – take-up rate calculated by author; degree by extrapolation from first two data sets by author.

Note: Students on sub-degree courses are more likely to come from lower income backgrounds. Separate post on that to follow.


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