Colleges face bursary 'shortfall'

Colleges will only receive a fraction of the amount they want to spend on bursaries to students from poorer backgrounds, according to official figures.

Scotland's colleges asked their funding body for a total of £14.7m for bursaries.

But they will only receive £3.5m, with five receiving no money for bursaries.

The Scottish government said overall support for college students was at a record level.

College students are entitled to loans to meet their living costs on similar terms to those offered to university students. Colleges themselves award and distribute bursaries to those from low income backgrounds.

The body that provides the money for bursaries - the Scottish Funding Council - said that in previous years colleges had often asked for more money than they had actually given out.

'Fair and equitable'

Because this money cannot be spent on other things it was handed back.

In a document detailing the funding, the Scottish Funding Council said: "It should be noted that our experience of previous years is that there is an element of over-estimation in the requests that we receive.

"For example, a number of colleges that received additional funding through last year's reallocation process returned a significant proportion of this funding to us, as it was not used in-year."

A Scottish government spokesman said: "The Further Education student support budget is at a record level of £104m, meaning students are receiving more financial support than ever before. This redistribution exercise is an annual process designed to ensure funding is allocated in the most fair and equitable way.

"It is not at all unusual for requests for additional funding to exceed the amount available for re-allocation. We would expect colleges, as they have done in the past, to do everything possible to ensure students are not disadvantaged."

The National Union of Students described the figures as "extremely worrying".

'Serious reform'

The vice president of NUS Scotland, Robert Foster, said: "There's a huge shortfall in vital financial support for college students, to the tune of £11.2m, and we're really concerned that this could see colleges closing their doors to new students or individual students getting less financial support, or even none at all.

"Colleges support some of our most disadvantaged communities, so a shortage in these funds could be a disaster for those who rely on student support the most, including students with children trying to get back into education."

"The Scottish government has invested additional money in the past and we must see them act this year too, as clearly funds are not keeping up with demand. We also need serious reform of the system so that students receive an entitlement to support, protecting them from budget shortages."

Some of the government's critics have argued the money being spent on free university tuition often amounts to a middle class benefit and that it would be better spent on colleges.

Others have claimed colleges are being squeezed, with attention focused on universities.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Liam McArthur said: "In some areas we know that more young people go on to college instead of university.

"These cuts will strike a damaging blow to the people who need help the most and blows a further hole in the SNP's claims to be committed to widening access."

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