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Student borrowing up by 69% in Scotland in 2013-14: the arrival of the average £20k+ degree

October 28, 2014

A further post on the  2013-14 student support statistics, now available.

The report is here and the data tables (easier to interrogate) are here Student support statistics Scotland 2013-14.     The statistical news release is here and the ministerial news release is here.

This first post on these statistics looked at the position on the main means-tested grants. This one considers loans. Tables A1 and A6 are the sources for the figures quoted below. All figures are given in cash.

Total borrowing

Total borrowing for living costs has risen from £254.3 million in 2012-13 to £429.6 million, an increase of 69% in a single year.

This is higher than the figures reported earlier this year by the SLC, reflecting that this is the full year effect.

Average borrowing

The average amount borrowed has increased from £3,110 to £5,020, ie 61.4%This takes average borrowing for Scottish students for a four year degree to over £20,000 for the first time.  The average is now double in cash terms what it was in 2009-10 (£2,490).

It is not possible yet to see how average borrowing has changed for students at different income levels, because the data by income band has been presented in a different form from previous years. Data on a comparable basis may however become available at some point.

The report does however show some variation round the average, with the highest reported average at the lowest known income: an average of  £5,610 reported at incomes up to £16,999.  The lowest average of £4,340 is for the those on whom income data is held who have an income of £34,000 or above.

However, the group likely to have the highest borrowing (in effect, most mature students) has been included with the the group likely to have lowest (those above the means-test level of and seeking only the minimum loan) in a new single “income not declared/required” category.  This is an odd decision, given how different these two groups are, and makes it hard to read the data as clearly as before. The average of £4,710 for this new combined group will hide significant variation between the two types of student.

It can though be roughly estimated that if the numbers and borrowing behaviour of the poorest mature students is similar to last year, then this group would have an average of a little under £6,000 while that the most well-off borrowers will have taken out bit over £4,000 per head.  But the data will need to be disaggregated further before reliable figures can be given on this. 

Take-up

Take-up rates  have increased only slightly, from 60.3% to 62.4%.

This confirms the expectation that there would be little change in the borrowing behaviour of higher income Scots, many of whom have continued to take out no loan at all.

So it is more accurate to say that average lending continues to vary between the £0 typical for many at higher incomes and the higher amounts now faced by the poorest, which is likely to be towards £6,000 per year.

Distribution of total loan across the population by income

Particularly because of the treatment of the poorest mature students in the published data, it is not possible for now to reproduce the calculations previously discussed here, and show to what extent poorer students as a group still shoulder a disproportionate amount of all student borrowing in Scotland. The figures that we do have on average borrowing and take-up  make it inevitable however that debt continues to be carried disproportionately  by the poorest.

The increase in the maximum non-means-tested loan ought to have shifted the balance a bit towards the better-off, particularly if those at  incomes between £34,000 and around £45,000 have taken advantage of the change as might be expected.  However,  the continuing evidence of much lower loan take-up generally at higher incomes means that borrowing in Scotland will remain much more biased towards the poorest in Scotland than elsewhere within the UK.

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