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Bursary boost as fe shakes off 'poor relation' tag

The Lifelong Learning Minister announced on Monday what she said was "a level playing-field" of funding support for students on further and higher education courses.

Wendy Alexander chose Langside College in Glasgow to outline a pound;19.5 million bursary package for FE students over three years, and said the discrepancy with HE students would be "a thing of the past".

The sum was first announced last September by Henry McLeish when he was the Lifelong Learning Minister, as part of the outcome of the Scottish Executive's spending review for the period up to 2003-04.

It means full-time FE students aged 18 and over who live with their parents will have a weekly bursary of pound;58.07 in the 2001-02 academic year compared with pound;50.25 now, a 15 per cent rise. The equivalent figures for students living away from home or who are supported by their partners are pound;73.36 a week and pound;69.25, an increase of 6 per cent.

Ms Alexander has also sanctioned an increase in the level of income required for both groups of FE student before a family starts contributing to their support from pound;18,171 to pound;20,000 for those living at home and from pound;10,926 to pound;17,000 for students supported by their partners.

These two moves will align FE students with those on HE courses, a demand of the FE sector for many years which the Cubie committee on student finance recommended be addressed. It means around 90 per cent of students aged 18 or over will receive a full bursary, with no requirement on families to contribute to their maintenance.

The Executive has already abolished tuition fees for full-time FE students, exempted students on sub-degree curses, mature students, lone parents and disabled students from the new graduate endowment scheme which has replaced fees and introduced childcare support.

The Association of Scottish Colleges endorsed Ms Alexander's description that, taken together with these earlier measures, "this package will represent, from next autumn, the most comprehensive and effective package of support ever for further education students".

It was "a major step forward" which would mean FE students receiving more and parents paying less.

Tom Kelly, the ASC's chief officer, said: "For too long students on FE courses have been the poor relations in student support."

The National Union of Students in Scotland welcomed the moves, saying that there had been no logical reason for treating FE and HE students and their parents differently.

Ministers are also establishing a pound;1.6 million "young students' retention fund", intended to come to the aid of students hit by a financial crisis during the year which might lead them to drop out of college.

The ASC understands that the additional support for FE students will not be paid for by restricting the number of bursaries, which will be revealed next month in the annual college allocations to be announced by the Scottish Further Education Funding Council.

Meanwhile an announcement is believed to be imminent on the extension of the educational maintenance allowance which has been piloted in East Ayrshire. The allowance is designed to persuade more school pupils to continue their studies into fifth and sixth year and will be targeted on other disadvantaged parts of Scotland.

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