Bill delay may hit hardship payouts

10th November 2000 at 00:00
THE Executive was forced into an embarrassing public admission last week that its Bill to replace student tuition payments with a graduate endowment scheme will have to be redrafted. The revision, which the Executive insists is a matter of technicalities, is particularly embarrassing because the Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Bill was drawn up while Henry McLeish, the First Minister, was directly responsible for it.

The announcement of the Bill's imperfections was made in a letter to the Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee by Nicol Stephen, the former deputy minister for lifelong learning who will continue to be associated with the legislation and pilot it through Parliament.

Alex Neil, the committee's convener, immediately warned that if the Bill did not reach the statute book by next spring the new student hardship bursaries might not be introduced from the beginning of the next academic session.

Mr Stephen assured Mr Neil that the delay would be no more than four to six weeks. But Mr Neil said he did not believe this was achievable. P> The student support package, which has already ended tuition fees from this session, includes means-tested bursaries of up to pound;2,000 for a potential 30 per cent of students. A further 30 per cent will be able to apply to a pound;10 million fund for mature students.

In his letter Mr Stephen said that the Bill was not explicit enough about what the Executive is trying to achieve. "We think it would be desirable to make it clear on the face of the Bill the important connection between liability for the endowment and the provision of bursaries," he said.

It was also unclear in the initial draft that students who do not successfully complete a course will not have to pay into the endowment scheme.

A separate policy memorandum does spell out these intentions and a spokesman for the Department of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning said it wanted to make the Bill as clear as the policy memorandum. The endowment, worth initially pound;2,000, will be repayable when students start earning pound;10,000 which critics repeatedly argue is too low when the Cubie committee recommended a pound;25,000 threshold.

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