The Labour Party attacked the discretionary awards system as "a national lottery with very few prizes" this week as Government figures revealed how scarce the grants have become.
Statistics issued by the Department for Education show that 25 English local authorities gave no discretionary awards to 16 to 18-year-olds in 1992/93, and another 18 made grants available to less than 10 per cent of eligible students in that age group.
The overall picture for the 19-plus age group was even worse. While there were just 14 authorities which gave no grants at all, 68 made awards to less than 10 per cent of those eligible, with giving grants to only 1 or 2 per cent.
The news brought further pressure on ministers to reform the system, which regulates the only maintenance support for thousands of further education students.
Tim Boswell, further and higher education minister, has promised a review of discretionary grants in the light of findings from a survey commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation, the results of which were published earlier this year.