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Annual statistics on student grants and loans in Scotland due on Tueday 27 October: things to watch for

October 23, 2015

The Scottish Government’s annual statistics on student funding are due to be published by SAAS at 9.30am on 27 October.  They will cover the academic year 2014-15. These will cover the second academic year under the lower-grant/higher debt system introduced in Scotland in 2013.  They will be  the last such set before the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

This is a link to last year’s report.  A more user-friendly set of Excel tables is linked further down this post.

What to expect

The total number of students supported should be expected to rise, given extra places were still being fed into the system.

Although UCAS (Table 5) showed a drop of 1,140 in acceptances in 2014, it cautioned that this probably reflected changes in recording practice and could still have been masking a net increase.  Also, UCAS figures won’t have picked up any increase in students studying HN-level courses in colleges or  moving from a college to a degree course.  Provisional 2014 application data from SAAS this time last year suggested a rise of 2,940 in applicants as at September compared to the same point the previous year (Table A14). This doesn’t necessarily imply an equally sharp rise in total cases eventually supported: in previous years only around one-third to one-half of the increase at this stage has translated into final extra cases.  An increase of 1,500 would be just over 1%: that looks like a reasonable expectation.

Lending to students will also rise and more quickly than student numbers. Loan entitlements were increased by a flat £250 in 2014-15.  We already know from the Student Loans Company that total gross lending for the financial year 2014-15 (ie April 2014 to March 2015) was £516m.  A little of that (up to £30m) will have been for fee loans for students going to other parts of the UK, which is shown in the statistics under fee support rather than loans: the figures identified as “loan” in the main tables are for maintenance loans.

An increase of £45m in maintenance-related lending would be worth 10%.  Something in that range looks likely.

Most unpredictable is what will happen with means-tested grants, after last year’s large fall in spending.  There was no change to rates, so claimant numbers will be the critical part of the story.  Last year these actually fell, even though the SFC’s widening access indicators showed increases.  Movements here, and the spending trends, will be worth watching.   The budget for SAAS spending on fees and grants was cash-flat in 2014.

Presentation

There will be plenty to chew on in these figures.  However, the nature of the news cycle means that what is press released on the day is likely to dominate coverage.  With Scotland down to one full-time education correspondent, it is also likely that whatever goes into any news agency release will pretty much be the story in the most of the print media.

Last year, the SG focussed on the rise in the total amount paid out in all forms of support, drawing a veil over the fact that the large increase was due entirely to loans and concealed cuts to grants. Beyond that, the press notice drew much of its material  from other sets of student-related statistics released the same day: due to changes to reporting cycles, there does not appear to be anything else relevant coming out next week, however (see footnote).  This year the student support figures appear to have to stand alone.

This year, the SG ought again to be able to point to more students than ever on SAAS’s books and higher than ever amounts paid out – although, as before, the latter will rely on increases in loans.

More interesting will be whether the line will try to echo the lines used by the FM and DFM at the SNP’s party conference (identified here), which concentrated on the rising number of students from poorer backgrounds.  That would be consistent with the increased focus on access in the political rhetoric, evident over the past year and seen in the establishment of the Commission on Widening Access. Being able to point to more people than ever before getting income-related grant, or getting any form of SAAS support while coming from lower incomes more generally, would work best there.

However, the statistics are less reliably friendly there.  The highest number on means-tested grant was reached in 2010-11, at 55,490, after the introduction of the Independent Student Bursary, and has been in steady decline since. It would take a substantial increase in recipients of means-tested grants simply to reverse that decline.

Bursary 2009-10 2010-11 2011-12 2012-13 2013-14
YSB 33,715 34,135 33,285 33,140 33,155
YSB (Outside Scotland) 20 5
ISB 18,255 16,755 15,645 17,405
Outside Scotland 1,515 1,535 1,450 1,370
Health Directorate 1,680 1,560 1,470 1,360
All means-tested 36,930 55,490 52,960 51,515 50,560

Watch out for comparisons just of YSB or ISB: several smaller grants have been rolled into those, so comparisons with YSB or ISB figures in the years before 2013-14 would not be like for like.

Separately, the bands used for general information on the distribution of students by income were changed in 2013-14,  so that comparisons with years before that is not possible, not least as, for technical reasons, most zero-income mature students can no longer be distinguished from those whose higher income disqualifies them from means-tested support.

This table picks out some of the figures particularly worth watching, for the the past 2 years (where available) and space to insert the latest figures, for those with the interest and inclination.  The full statistics from last year are available here and include some longer time series: apart from the first summary sheet added by this author, the material is as published by SAAS last year Student support statistics Scotland blog summary Oct 2015.

Notes Table ref (2013-14) 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 Change
1 2 2 cf 1
A1 Total Support
Number of students 135,375 137,295 1.4%
Bursaries and grants
Number of students 54,130 53,450 -1.3%
Amount (£ million) 100.6 64.9 -35.5%
Average per student 1,860 1,210 -34.9%
Loans
Number of students 81,640 85,655 4.9%
Amount (£ million) 254.3 429.6 68.9%
Average per student 3,110 5,020 61.4%
A2 Scottish Domiciles
1 Number of students 121,990 123,745 1.4%
EU Domiciles
Number of students 13,385 13,550 1.2%
Amount (£ million) 24.9 25.6 2.8%
2 A6 All receiving any form of support 135,375 137,295
Income not declared / required n/a 90,020
Up to £16,999 n/a 24,630
£17,000 to £23,999 n/a 9,250
£24,000 to £33,999 n/a 9,625
£34,000 and above n/a 3,770
All taking a loan 81,640 85,655
Income not declared / required n/a 48,840
Up to £16,999 n/a 19,375
£17,000 to £23,999 n/a 7,175
£24,000 to £33,999 n/a 7,510
3 £34,000 and above n/a 2,755
% borrowing 67% 69%
Income not declared / required n/a 64%
Up to £16,999 n/a 79%
£17,000 to £23,999 n/a 78%
£24,000 to £33,999 n/a 78%
£34,000 and above n/a 73%
Total amount borrowed (£m) 254.3 429.6
Income not declared / required n/a 229.9
Up to £16,999 n/a 108.8
£17,000 to £23,999 n/a 39.0
£24,000 to £33,999 n/a 40.0
£34,000 and above n/a 12.0
Average amount borrowed (£) 3,110 5,020
Income not declared / required n/a 4,710
Up to £16,999 n/a 5,610
£17,000 to £23,999 n/a 5,430
£24,000 to £33,999 n/a 5,320
£34,000 and above n/a 4,340
A8 Total claimants: income-assessed grants 51,515 50,560 -1.9%
Young Students Bursary 33,140 33,155 0.0%
Independent Students Bursary 15,645 17,405 11.2%
Discontinued grants 2,730 0 -100.0%
A9 Total spending (£m) 89.4 53.0 -40.7%
Young Students Bursary 69.7 40.6 -41.7%
Independent Students Bursary 14.5 12.3 -14.8%
Discontinued grants 5.2 0.0 -100.0%
4 A11 Non-Income Assessed Loan
Number of students n/a 39,980
Amount (£ million) n/a 165.5
Average per student n/a 4,140
Income Assessed Loan
Number of students n/a 45,675
Amount (£ million) n/a 264.1
Average per student (£) n/a 5,780
1: EU students are mainly entitled to fee support only (ie no maintenance grants or loans), unless they meet the SG’s residence requirement
2: data broken down by income was published using different income ranges prior to 2013-14
3: not published – derived from totals, with EU students removed from figures for “income unknown”.
4: figures prior to 201314 not published in a comparable format

Footnote

The SFC’s participation rate publication, quoted this time last year, have since been somewhat truncated and incorporated into a more general publication, now issued in late March. I haven’t yet worked out what has happened to the Early Destinations figures, also published this time last year, but they are not listed for publication next week.

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