DEMAND from Scottish college students for vital support payments is outstripping the amount of money available.

Figures obtained by student body NUS Scotland show applications for bursaries and childcare allowances has risen 15 per cent over the past three years - with requests rising from an average of 2050 in 2011/12 to an average of 2348 in 2013/14.

Over the same period the amount of financial support available has increased by some five per cent, from £95 million to just over £100m.

The NUS Scotland data for 2014/15 also shows that more than half of colleges have either spent all of the funds available to them or paid out more than they were allocated.

There are already widespread concerns that the amount of money available from the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) is not sufficient to meet demand.

In December, it emerged that colleges were facing a shortfall of more than £11m in financial support in 2014/15 with only an additional £3.5m available to colleges despite requests for £14.7m to top up bursary and childcare funds.

Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, said the figures highlighted the extent of the "crisis" facing the further education student support system.

He said: "Every year we're seeing the number of students applying for a bursary increasing, yet the budget failing to take account of this.

"With more students applying each year, and the great work colleges do in providing opportunities for some of our most disadvantaged communities, it's a disaster if those students are then refused a bursary, or don't get the level of support as they deserve.

"With more students applying every year, the majority of colleges are consistently having to overcommit funding for student support, above and beyond the budget they receive which means having to take money from elsewhere in the system, including teaching funds, dealing a double blow for students."

Mr Maloney called on Scottish ministers to provide additional money for college students this year and in future years as well as calling for a reform of the system to ensure all eligible students received support.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said the further education student support budget was at a record level of £104m, meaning students were receiving more financial support than ever before.

She said: "It is not at all unusual for bids for additional funding on top of the annual agreements to fluctuate and exceed the amount available for re-allocation and, as always, the SFC is working closely to ensure any available budget is allocated in the most fair and equitable way.

"We would expect colleges, as they have done in the past, to do everything possible to ensure students are not disadvantaged."

The SFC said that demand for student support was "unpredictable" and to help match funding to demand as closely as possible it carried out an in-year redistribution of student support funds every autumn.

The Scottish Government has come under fire in recent months on the issue with the Scottish Liberal Democrat's education spokesman Liam McArthur blaming cuts to college budgets in a recent interview.

He said: "Students need this bursary funding to help them manage the cost of living whilst studying. In some areas we know that more young people go on to college instead of university."