More than 50,000 students have sought financial help from Scottish universities over the past five years, according to new figures.

Research by the Liberal Democrats found there have been 53,326 applications for financial assistance received by university authorities since 2012-13.

However the number, revealed through Freedom of Information requests, has fallen from 12,433 in 2012-13 to 9,772 in 2016-17.

The party highlighted Students Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) figures showing that since 2007/08 the value of student loans has increased by 175 per cent while the sum of bursaries and grants has fallen by a third.

Scottish Liberal Democrat education spokesman Tavish Scott MSP said: “These figures show that in the last five years, tens of thousands of students at Scottish universities have had to reach out to university authorities to say that they are struggling to keep their heads above water.

“The SNP were elected on a clear commitment to replace loans with grants and to ‘dump the debt’. On the SNP’s watch’s student debt has instead soared and bursaries and grants have been reduced.

“Fewer students from poorer backgrounds are getting help and those that do are receiving much less, despite inflation and accommodation costs rising. This is a desperate record.

“This new information shows the problems that these cut backs have caused and repairing them should be a priority for the SNP Government.”

The Scottish Government said the SAAS figures also show total student support rose 3.6 per cent year-on-year to £834.8 million in 2016-17, with the average student support at £5,830 per student.

A spokeswoman said: “This Government is investing a record amount in student support and our action to help students who need additional financial assistance the most has resulted in thousands more qualifying for a bursary or increased bursary funding.

“Our commitment to free tuition means that, unlike elsewhere in the UK, Scottish students studying in Scotland do not incur additional debt of up to £27,000 and average student loan debt here is the lowest in these islands.”