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Latest Scottish student support statistics: claimants for YSB no longer falling but remain historically low

October 31, 2017

Some brief analysis of the annual Scottish student support statistics are published today: link here.

Last year, it was the accelerating fall in the numbers getting a means-tested grant which stood out: see here:

This year numbers are higher, but the absolute number on Young Student Bursary  and, even more, the number on YSB as a proportion of young students remains historically low and needs an explanation.

Means-tested grant claimants

Something really odd has happened to the number of younger students claiming a means-tested grant.

The figure below shows the trend in the number of students claiming YSB (plus the separate Young Student Outside Scotland Bursary from 2004-05 to 2010): YSB is available to students under 25.  The figure will understate the number of young students getting a means-tested grant prior to 2013-14: various small non-age specific means-tested grants existed prior to that, which were rolled into YSB (and Independent Student Bursary, for older students) at that point.

YSB change

Note: Rise in 2005-06 likely to be due to increased rates and thresholds that year.

While the numbers below the age of 25 have risen by 21% since 2004-05, the number of young students getting a means-tested grant in the last two years has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade.

The figure below shows YSB (and YSOSB) recipients as a percentage of all under 25. Some people on YSB may have been over 25, so the true proportion of the relevant age group getting a grant will have been lower in every year – but the trend is startling.

YSB as %


There may be some sort of technical explanation for the fall in the last two years (have some been moved onto the much lower Independent Student Bursary?), but even then the longer-term trend is a concern.  It clearly deserves explaining. If the student support review due to publish soon has nothing to say about this, it will be very disappointing.

The news on independent students is better. These have had a national means-tested grant since 2010. After a boost to numbers in 2013-14 (likely to be due to many students moving on to ISB who were previously on a separate grant for professions allied to medicine), the number here had been falling, but is now up. The number of older students over the period has grown, too, but only by 3.8%.  The potential for year-on-year volatility looks like the issue here.


Spending on means-tested grants

In 2015-16 £125 was added to YSB for most recipients, and in 2016-17 the income threshold for the maximum grant was put back almost to where it was in cash terms in 2012-13.

The combined effect of these is now visible: between 2014-15 (before either change) and 2016-17, total YSB spending rose by £3.5m (9%), and ISB by £2.7m (23%, reflecting not least the rise in numbers this year) .

Total spending on means-tested grants remained £31m/35% lower than in 2012-13, even so, and these comparisons are in cash terms and take no account of inflation.

The average YSB payment rose from to £1235 to £1391 over the same two-year period.  For ISB, the figures are £710 to £827.

Total borrowing

Total borrowing has exceeded £0.5 bn for the first time (we already knew this from an earlier data release by the Student Loans Company).


Average borrowing remains almost unchanged: it is £5,300 compared to £5,290 the year before.  The rise in the total is due to more students borrowing.

Debt distribution

Borrowing by income is hardly changed, so that borrowing continues to be skewed towards those at low incomes, as  the design of the system would predict. Nothing new here: Scotland’s particular use of student loans remains indefensibly regressive.


These figures contain no major new surprises, other perhaps than the large increase in ISB claimants. But what’s happening to the number of younger students receiving a means-tested grant really does demand attention.








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