SCOTTISH college students are facing a £2.4 million shortfall in vital support funds, new figures show.

Colleges requested an additional £4.25m to help pay for bursaries and childcare allowances, but only received £1.8m.

Student support funds in the college sector are crucial because they are the only financial help available to further education students.

Unlike their counterparts in higher education, college students have no guarantees because the funding is discretionary and limited to how much institutions have been given.

NUS Scotland has already campaigned for increased funding for student support in the short-term, with the longer term aim of fundamental reform to provide a guaranteed level of support.

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said: “Once again there’s a huge shortfall in vital financial support for college students.

"This could see colleges forced to take money from elsewhere, close their doors to new students, or individual students getting reduced 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. "It’s obvious that funds are not keeping up with demand - something we see repeated every year. It's clear the system needs a complete overhaul."

Iain Gray, Scottish Labour's opportunity spokesman, said: "People's ability to learn should not be based on how much money they have, but these figures show college students are being more than short-changed by the SNP - they are being ripped off.

"NUS Scotland recently told the Scottish Parliament student support in colleges was not fit for purpose and these figures provide evidence that is the case."

However, the Scottish Government said the

Shona Struthers, chief executive of Colleges Scotland said: : "Student support funding is vital to helping many students, particularly from poorer backgrounds, to access high quality college education courses.

"Colleges seek to maximise the finance available to students. Last year, the shortfall in student support funding was met by the Scottish Government allowing colleges to use depreciation funding and Colleges Scotland is discussing a similar approach for 2015/16”.

A spokesman for the Scottish Funding Council, which oversees payments, said the the redistribution exercise was carried out to ensure student support funds were directed where there was most need.

He added: "We identify unspent student support funds from within the system, including any unused funds from the previous year, and re-allocate this to colleges with higher demand."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We’ve invested a record level of over £105m in further education student support this year – an increase of 29% in real terms since 2006/07 and we have worked closely with the Scottish Funding Council over the last year, initially by ensuring that allocations of funding match more closely to need, this means that this year’s shortfall is a more accurate reflection of need across the sector.

“The shortfall will once again be met in full through the re-direction of funds previously earmarked for depreciation, ensuring that colleges can continue to meet commitments to students.

"Working with the SFC, we’re striving to continually improve the further education support system and will, from 2016/17, meet one of NUS Scotland’s key asks’ by abolishing the ‘variance rule’, ensuring that students receive 100% of their award granted.”