Today's announcement of new student support arrangements is not the one that the pundits are waiting to see. The big news will come in January, with the likely extension of education maintenance allowances to higher education. But the importance of slimming down the system of allowances should not be underestimated. In many cases, the difficulty of negotiating the maze of different schemes has been one of the factors behind the sharp increase in "seriously disturbed" students seen by counsellors.
Six separate schemes might still be thought to be more than enough, but a reduction from the current 14 can only be welcomed, as can logical reforms such as the extension of childcare allowances beyond term time. However, simplification will count for little if the amounts devoted to student support in January do not meet the needs of students who have to rely on hardship funds. Much will depend on the scale and character of the new student support fund to be established in 2004 as a replacement for the variable and often inadequate funds that universities and colleges operate.