Scotland's system of student support is “broken” and causing serious hardship, according to union leaders who are demanding the urgent introduction of summer payments.

There are also growing fears that surging inflation and the cost of living crisis will make it difficult for many to continue with their learning.

It comes after recent reports that individuals face a choice between “sofa-surfing or sky-high rents” due to shortages of affordable accommodation.

And research published earlier this year by the National Union of Students (NUS) in Scotland found worryingly high levels of financial distress and poverty among those accessing tertiary education. The Broke document warns that 12 per cent of learners who took part in a survey had experienced homelessness since beginning their studies, with nearly two-thirds (64%) suffering mental ill-health due to money pressures.

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NUS Scotland says the crisis worsened over the summer and has left many in desperate circumstances. Now individuals are speaking out about the impact.

Vicky Ward, 32, is a single parent of two and studies social sciences at Fife College. She said: “When student funding finished up in June this year I went on Universal Credit (UC). I’ve been in education for two years and I would absolutely say that my finances have been stretched far further this summer than they were last year.

“I’m already feeling the strain with rising gas prices, electricity prices, and food prices - everything seems to have gone up by roughly a third. I already have debts, and the reason I’ve gone back to study is to get a better-paid job so I can pay those debts.

“But at points I have wondered if it is worth continuing in my studies as I worry that if I continue, those debts are just going to accumulate and get worse because what I do have to live on is just not enough and the cost of living crisis is only going to get worse.”

Ms Ward, who is about to start an HND course, said her UC status meant she was required to attend the job centre and present evidence that she was seeking employment, despite fully intending to resume her studies after the summer.

“Being totally honest, it felt as though I was being judged for opting to stay in education as opposed to employment,” she added. “I want to prioritise my studies, especially because I am a mum, and I am doing this in order to get better-paid employment in the future.

“If student payments had continued over the summer, it would have been a definite help. It would have prevented that changeover period when student support ended in June, allowed me to manage my budget over the summer months, and prevented me having to go to the job centre.”

HeraldScotland: Sophie Swan, a student at Glasgow University, said the lack of financial support over the summer meant June felt life a "cliff edge".Sophie Swan, a student at Glasgow University, said the lack of financial support over the summer meant June felt life a "cliff edge".

Sophie Swan, 25, a joint honours student of German and Eastern European Studies at Glasgow University, said: “I really felt the cliff edge in June as I didn’t receive my student payment yet, at the same time, my utility bills more than doubled. Luckily my rent hasn’t been increased, but a large number of my peers have seen their rent increase.

"Some have even had to move out and find somewhere else to live that is more affordable.

“My flatmate and I are just crossing our fingers hoping that this doesn’t happen to us because if it does, it’ll be a nightmare.”

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Ellie Gomersall, NUS Scotland president, said: “Students’ experiences tell us that Scotland’s system of student support is broken and is perpetuating hardship at a time when cost of living pressures are only set to increase.

“In launching its review of student summer support, the Scottish Government has recognised that there is a problem with the system of student support. However, we need to take action much more urgently and ensure that a summer bridge payment is an option for all students moving forward, to avoid any more falling into hardship.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “In February, Further and Higher Education Minister Jamie Hepburn wrote to college and university principals asking them to continue to prioritise hardship funds to those most in need, and to take account of the impact of the rising cost of living. The Minister wrote to principals again at the beginning of June to re-emphasise the importance of providing support.

“We continue to work closely with the NUS and stakeholders on this survey. We are also looking into findings made in Scottish Government-commissioned research into supporting students over the summer months."