Working paper 3: The Fairest of Them All? The Support for Scottish Students in Full-time Higher Education in 2014-15

Lucy Blackburn

Research output: Working paper


This report updates The Rocks vs The Sun, which examined the effect of significant changes
to student support in Scotland introduced in 2013-141
and considered (a) year-on-year
changes in Scotland between 2012-13 and 2013-14 and (b) how the arrangements in
Scotland compared with those elsewhere in the UK, reflecting the weight placed on such
comparisons by the Scottish Government in presenting the changes.
 Updating earlier comparisons confirms that no one system can be claimed as best in the UK,
other than subjectively and on the basis of partial comparisons.
 For low- to middle-income students who live away from home, who are likely to need the
greatest help, the total value of living cost support provided to Scottish students is
unexceptional in UK terms and sometimes relatively poor. Scotland does however provide
relatively high support for high-income students and most of those who live at home.
 Even in absence of tuition fees, levels of final debt for low-income Scottish students who
study in Scotland are comparable with and in certain cases higher than debt levels for similar
students from the other devolved administrations.
 Only students from relatively high income homes enjoy consistent superior benefits from
the Scottish system, but only as long as they study in Scotland.
 From 2013-14, there have been significant reductions in grant and a considerable increase in
the use of student loans to support living costs in Scotland, following several years in which
the total amount of student loan was already rising.
 Scotland is unique in having a system which assigns the highest student debt to those from
the lowest income homes, due to its much lower use of student grant.
 For young students in full-time higher education in Scotland, the net effect of policy
decisions over the decade to 2015-16 will be a resource transfer from low-income to highincome
households. More generally, the prioritisation of fees over living costs for cash
support has been to the relative detriment of lower-income students.
 In absolute terms, over time and relative to other parts of the UK the Scottish system for
financing full-time students in higher education does not have the egalitarian, progressive
effects commonly claimed for it.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages66
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2014


  • higher education
  • Scotland
  • referendum
  • full-time


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