The number of students applying for financial help because of hardship has reached a new high, it was claimed yesterday.

A total of 14,386 students at Scottish universities applied for hardship funding in the academic year 2008-09.

The figure, obtained by the LibDems through Freedom of Information, is an increase of more than 1000 from 2007-08, where there was a previous record high of 13,283 applications.

The party's education spokeswoman Margaret Smith said: "To have 14,386 students across Scotland applying for hardship funding is seriously worrying. This number is more than the total student population at either St Andrews or Stirling University."

Mrs Smith added to LibDem calls for Scots students to have a minimum income guarantee of at least £7000 a year. She said: "Access to education should be about the ability to learn and not the ability to pay.

"We already know that one-in-three students are dropping out of further education due to money problems. These latest figures reveal the true level of student hardship in Scotland.

"They provide further evidence of why SNP ministers should back Liberal Democrat calls for a minimum income guarantee for Scotland's students."

A Scottish Government spokesman said that reducing graduate debt and tackling student hardship were priorities for ministers.

The spokesman said: "Additionally, we are currently considering the response to our consultation on how £30m to improve student support should be spent."