STUDENT debt in Scotland is rising faster than anywhere else in the UK, but is still significantly lower than levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

New figures from the Student Loans Company show the average debt of Scottish graduates in 2014/15 was £10,500 after a rise of nearly 12 per cent on the previous year.

However, students from England, where tuition fees of up to £9,000 are charged, are now leaving university with average debts of £24,640. Debts are £19,720 in Northern Ireland and £16,120 in Wales. In total, the amount lent to Scottish students was £548 million.

Student body NUS Scotland called for a Scottish Government review of support to look at the reintroduction of grants for the poorest.

Read more: College student numbers plummet to lowest level on record

Officials said that without access to the necessary financial support students were forced to turn to commercial debt, take on unreasonable amounts of part-time work, or even drop out of education altogether.

Vonnie Sandlan, NUS Scotland president, said: "We worked incredibly hard to see increased student support, but it can’t be escaped that this came through higher loans, rather than grants.

"While increases would have been preferable in grants, and no increases at all would have been unacceptable, it’s clear we need to look again at the support we provide for students, particularly our poorest and most in-need.

"Despite all the progress made during the last parliament on improving our record on widening access to higher education, there’s still much more to do, and that must include addressing the financial support available to students."

Read more: College student numbers plummet to lowest level on record

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU Scotland union, which represents lecturers, also called for an investigation into student support.

She said: "It's good news that Scottish students’ debt levels on graduation are the lowest in the UK, but worrying that they’re increasing. The Scottish Government does need to urgently review current student support provision.

"Alongside proposals to widen access, we need to ensure the often mentioned term free education actually means what it says and that students can access and stay at university without graduating overburdened with debt."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats criticised the SNP for "failing" students from deprived backgrounds and also called for ministers to invest in new bursaries and support for students.

Read more: College student numbers plummet to lowest level on record

Tavish Scott, the party's education spokesman, said: "Despite the SNP’s rhetoric, student debt has soared during their years in power.

"The average level of student debt in Scotland has risen by more than 75 per cent in just five years – far quicker than any other part of the UK. The SNP need to reset this part of their education policy like, so much of the rest."

However, Shirley-Anne Somerville, Minister for Higher Education, said the SNP's policy of free tuition was a "huge factor" in ensuring the average student loan debt in Scotland remained the lowest in the UK.

She said: "We welcome the fact students start their working lives with significantly lower levels of student loan debt than if we pursued the same market driven policies as elsewhere in the UK.

"We will always take the opportunity to improve student support where we can which is why in 2016/17 eligibility for the maximum bursary of £1875 will expand for students who live at home in a household with an income of up to £19,000.

"In addition to this the First Minister recently confirmed a full review of the current student support system will take place in due course and we look forward to working with the sector to identify any other potential reforms that can be made."

The figures come before the impact of changes to the system of support in Scotland introduced by the SNP in 2012 which will see a further increase in debt.

Michael Russell, the then Education Secretary, reduced grants to the poorest students as part of an expansion of loans to cover living costs.

The move was originally supported by NUS Scotland because surveys had shown them the biggest deterrent to students was the cost of living rather than debt.