THE SCOTTISH Executive has announced details of its new student support package which includes a 12 per cent increase in the qualifying income threshold for students' parents.
But it has also cut substantially the loan entitlement of students from high earning families, leading to a sharp rebuke from the Conservatives. The means tested package applies to higher education students in colleges and universities; improvements for FE students from 2001 are promised soon.
Announcing the new measures, Wendy Alexander, the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, said more students would get the maximum bursary of pound;2,000 by raising the allowable earnings of parents from pound;17,805 to pound;20,000; the earnings threshold for students' spouses will also be raised from pound;15,070 to pound;17,000. This will apply to HE students inside and outside Scotland.
The Minister said the intention was to target young students from low-income families. Around 45 per cent of students are likely to benefit, Ms Alexander said, although this also includes hard-up mature students who will be entitled to apply to a special pound;10 million bursary fund operated by the colleges and universities themselves.
The targeting strategy has also persuaded ministers that they should reduce the minimum loan available to higher income families, defined as residual earnings of pound;45,000 for parents whose children are living away from home while studying, and pound;42,000 for those iving at home. The minimum loan for this group next year will be pound;750 instead of pound;1,745 for students living away and pound;500, not pound;1,165, if they stay at home.
The continuing link between student support and their parents' income was attacked by Brian Monteith, the Tories' education spokesman, who dismissed it as "patronising".
He said: "By reducing the minimum loan available to students from higher income families, she will undoubtedly hit some students hard when they need the money most. Some students, even if they do come from a higher income household, use their loan as their main or sole means of support while at university."
Ms Alexander would never solve the problems of student finance until she recognised that students are "consenting adults living their lives independently of their parents," Mr Monteith added.
But he welcomed "some good news" in the announcement, which also includes an increase from pound;1,025 to pound;4,000 in the amount students are allowed from scholarships before their support payments are affected. Some students will also be entitled to a school meals grant for their children worth between pound;245 and pound;265 per child.
Ms Alexander said the purpose of her measures was to "open up learning opportunities to those who would not have previously considered continuing their education". The package would also bring student support in higher and further education more closely into line, she said.