Ruth Davidson: Student bursaries 'gutted' under SNP
The SNP has cut student bursaries by more than £40m since coming to power, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has claimed.
Ms Davidson said figures obtained from the Student Awards Agency of Scotland showed £60m would be spent on bursaries in 2016, compared to £104m in 2007.
She said the SNP had "gutted" the funding for poorer students.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Scotland was reducing the attainment gap "faster than the rest of the UK."
Ucas figures have shown that pupils from more affluent areas are far more likely to want to go to university, with 15.1% of youngsters from the poorest areas in Scotland applying for places in 2015, compared to 52% in the least-deprived areas.
At First Minister's Questions, Ms Davidson said the SNP policy of opposing university tuition fees had "failed to produce a more egalitarian outcome compared to the rest of the UK".
She produced a Freedom of Information request to the awards agency which showed bursary support had fallen from £104.8m in 2007/8 to £63.6m in 2014/15.
She said: "Not only are those people from the most deprived areas not getting their foot through the door, but their bursary support has fallen too.
"How can she explain to them that when the SNP came to power there was more than £104m in the pot, but next year it will have plummeted to just £60m?
"The SNP is slashing college places and has cut bursaries - and now the universal free tuition policy designed to counter those things has been shown not to work."
Ms Davidson backs introducing a graduate contribution, which would see students pay back some money once in work and earning a certain amount.
Scottish Labour later joined the attack, with Iain Gray saying the SNP were "strangers to the truth" over student debt, adding: "Thousands of young people from poorer families who have the grades to access the best courses can only get the extra support they need by borrowing more. We need to deliver better student support for our young people."
Ms Sturgeon hit back at the claims, saying more students from disadvantaged backgrounds were making it into higher education.
She said: "The number of people from our most deprived communities achieving a university qualification has increased under this government by 24%.
"The number of 18-year-olds from our most deprived areas applying to university is up by 50%.
"Those are the facts and what will certainly not help us make any further progress is to go down the road of the Tories by taking away bursaries from all students.
"We will continue to make sure that we have a funding support package for our students that supports students, particularly those from the poorest backgrounds, to go to college and university."
She also said that with the Conservative chancellor George Osborne announcing the UK government would "abolish all bursary support" in his Spending Review, she would "take no lectures whatsoever" on the matter from Ms Davidson.