THE government faces accusations of misleading new students into assuming there would be a more gradual shift in balance between grants and loans than has emerged.
Government leaflets have said that next year, the loan will comprise about three-quarters of the grant and loan package, rather than half as it does now.
But its own, newly published figures show that for English students living at home, the grant is only 17 per cent of the package, while for Scottish students, the figure drops to 12.5 per cent.
A Scottish Office spokesman said the balance of three-quarters and one quarter referred to the "general average" across the UK.
The Department for Education and Employment said this week that the "vast majority" of students, 70 per cent, fell into the category of living away from home outside London. For these students, the balance was 23 per cent grant and 77 per cent loan.
A guide the DFEE issued to students gave only one set of figures for next academic year, an Pounds 888 grant and Pounds 2,572 loan. The recently published allowance rates show that for English students living away from home outside London, the grant is Pounds 810 and the loan is Pounds 2,735. The "at home" figures are a Pounds 480 grant and Pounds 2,325 loan, falling to a Pounds 325 grant and Pounds 2,325 loan in Scotland.
Strathclyde University's student support unit has calculated that the balance of grant to loan should be 12.5 per cent to 87.5 per cent even for students living away from home. This is based on deducting the differential between the "at home" and "elsewhere" rates for continuing students from new students' income, some from the grant and some from the loan.
The calculations show that new students will receive only a quarter of the grant they would have received as continuing students.
Sir John Arbuthnott, principal of Strathclyde University and a member of the Dearing committee, said: "If this interpretation of the figures is correct, I am really quite taken aback. The government's earlier statements suggested that grants would be phased out more gently."
The Dearing committee had had lengthy discussions about the student grant, and agreed that it must be maintained for students from poorer backgrounds, he said.
"I am very unhappy that the government seems to have disregarded our advice."