The new sliding scale of grants to be made available in 2005 will not satisfy those who have been campaigning to reverse the injustices heaped upon part-time students for as long as state support has existed. Despite the huge and growing numbers of part-timers in British higher education, their legitimate demands have been ignored by successive governments. Last year's White Paper, and subsequent legislation, was scandalously silent on their plight. At least, however, by rewarding the "intensity" of part-time study as well as directing support towards the most impoverished students, the new system represents a step in the right direction.
Although the grants will be introduced for one year only, it will be difficult for ministers to depart from these principles when a more permanent successor is established. The Treasury may take some convincing simply to roll over the 2005 arrangements if they turn out to be as costly as some experts predict. But buoyant part-time enrolments will be essential if the Government is to get anywhere near its target of 50 per cent participation in higher education. Kim Howells' predecessor acknowledged the force of the case for better financial support - making a reality of that pledge will be one of the most important challenges facing the current Higher Education Minister.