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'Stingy' grant could be raised to help disadvantaged students

More help for poor students seems to be on its way as ministers acknowledge that last week's White Paper proposal for a maximum grant of pound;1,000 was too stingy.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, told a Guardian higher education debate on Monday that the Government might raise a "relatively modest level" of grant, due to be introduced in 2004.

Will Straw, president of Oxford University Students' Union, said the pound;1,000 grant was "better than a slap in the face but hardly enough to pay for rent, food and books".

Mr Clarke hinted that a higher level might be introduced from 2006, when universities will be able to start charging fees of up to pound;3,000.

He also promised to look at the anomaly whereby 16 to 19-year-olds will be entitled to educational maintenance allowances of pound;1,500 a year if their parents' income is less than pound;13,000, while higher education students will receive only pound;1,000 if their parents earn less than pound;10,000.

More maintenance help could sweeten the pill of higher fees, the aspect of last week's White Paper that has attracted the most criticism.

The Government faces a backbench revolt over its university plans when it introduces legislation in the next parliamentary session - 153 backbench Labour MPs have signed an early-day motion against any form of top-up fees.

Up to 40 leading universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, Warwick and Imperial College London, are expected to charge pound;3,000.

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