IN August 2012, the Scottish Government announced a "minimum income guarantee" for students from the poorest households.

This was originally set at £7,250 and this year is £7,500. The new package was widely welcomed, but little attention was paid at the time to how it was being delivered.

It turned out to be based on a shift away from the use of grant and towards much more reliance on student loans to support students' living costs. In 2012/13, the Young Student Bursary has been reduced along with grants for mature students and Scotland now has by far the lowest student grants anywhere in the UK.

Before the changes, a young student whose parents earned £20,000 in total received £2,518 in grant and £3,555 in loan, giving £6,073 in total to live on.

This year, the same student receives £1,000 in grant and can borrow up to £5,750, worth £6,750 in total. So they have £677 more a year to live on, but they also have £2,195 in extra debt.

The loan available for those at higher incomes has also been increased, now a flat rate £4,750 for everyone at £34,000 and over, but none of that extra borrowing is compensating for lost grant. This shift away from grant means that in Scotland those students who started with the least are now, uniquely in the UK, expected to borrow the most, building a long-term regressive effect into the Scottish system.

Lucy Hunter Blackburn is a freelance researcher and former head of higher education in the Scottish Government.