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Scottish student support 2015-16: coming soon?

February 1, 2015

The student support rates for new and continuing students in Scotland for 2015-16 remain unknown.

This must be about as late as they have ever been (see this earlier post).  They are already an unprecedented 10 and a half months behind announcements for England, where admittedly the 2015-16 rates were announced exceptionally early, on 13 March last year.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Parliament will be debating Stage 3 of the Budget Bill and, presumably, passing the figures into law.  So an announcement on student grant and loan rates might be due in the next few days, as part of that.  If, for example, NUS Scotland’s bid for a bit of extra grant at low incomes has been successful,  that might be a good news story for Wednesday and an indication that the new administration is not simply rolling forwarded inherited policies.  A rise in the  minimum grant of £250, to £2,000 for the poorest students, would be a tidy headline. It would cost between £5 million and £8 million, depending how it was done (see footnote).  Raising mature students from £750 to £1000 would cost a little under £5 million.

These sort of figures could be found from the £21 million the Funding Council has been asked to hold back from university funding for next year, even after finding extra cash for FE bursaries.  But they would make a large dent in that and store up a pressure for future years; and even a change on this scale would represent only a step towards restoring the £35+ million taken out of the grant budget last year.

Still, there must be a reason for the delay and, now it’s clear that the SG has possibly found a way to liberate some £20 million from within the post-school budget,  something on these lines surely can’t be ruled out.

Footnote

The most recent SAAS data (Table A8) showed that in 2013-14  there were 33,155 claimants for the  Young Student Bursary.  The table does not give separate figures for the numbers claiming at the highest rate (£1750) and the two lower rates (£1000 and £500), but evidence provided by the Scottish Government to the Scottish Parliament (see below) in autumn 2012 suggested they expected 57% of claimants to be at the maximum rate.  If 57% of YSB claimants received an extra £250, it would cost  £4.75 million: if they all did, £8.3 million.  A problem with only giving extra grant to the poorest group is the even sharper cliff edge it would create when household income tips from £16,999 to £17,000. There were 17,405 claimants for the Independent Student Bursary: giving each of them £250 more  would cost £4.351 million: the same cliff edge effect would apply.

This table from the SG was included in the Education Committee’s report on the 2013-14 budget proposals (para 108).  It always looked a bit odd, as it projected total claimants for YSB of just under 42,000, well in excess of the numbers claiming up to that point and – in practice – more than 25% higher than the actual number in 2013-14.  The Education Committee has not, as far as I am aware, been given any explanation for this difference. The estimate of 57% of YSB claimants on the maximum rate assumes that even if the total numbers were not accurately predicted, the distribution between income bands is usable enough.

The SG slightly under-predicted ISB claimants, but within more normal margins of error for this sort of exercise: although, also slightly oddly at first sight, it used different income cut-offs from the actual scheme, which presumably would have been on the SAAS website by that point.

Support type Household income group Number of expected students Bursary Loan Total support
(£) (£) (£)
Young Students Less than £17,000 24,047 1,750 5,500 7,250
£17,001 – £23,000 7,982 1,000 5,500 6,500
£23,001 – £32,000 9,906 500 5,500 6,000
£32,001+ 56,835 0 4,500 4,500
Total Young Students 98,770
Independent Students Less than £18,000 16,621 750 6,500 7,250
£18,001 – £29,000 1,635 0 6,500 6,500
£29,001 – £32,000 290 0 6,000 6,000
£32,001+ 2,172 0 4,500 4,500
Total Independent 20,718
Total 119,488
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