STUDENTS struggling financially will receive less help this year in spite of the government doubling the funds for which they are eligible, their union has warned.
The National Union of Students says extending these access funds to part-time students for the first time will bring in an extra 500,000 potential applicants. This will reduce the amount of money available per year for each eligible higher education student from Pounds 30.12 in 1990, when the funds began, to Pounds .09 in 1998-99. The government has increased access funds overall from Pounds 23 million to Pounds 46 million.
An NUS spokesman said: "While money for part-time students is welcome, this measure clearly does nothing to alleviate the problems faced by full-time students in higher education."
The NUS is also calling on the government to increase the Pounds 250 hardship loan. About 20,000 new entrants in serious financial difficulty stand to benefit from these loans, for which the government has set aside Pounds 5 million. But this will cover less than 7 per cent of the total new entrants expected in 1998-99.
The union estimates that students will be just Pounds 180 a year, or Pounds 3.50 a week, better off in 1998 than they were four years ago, when the then shadow education secretary David Blunkett called student hardship "a national disgrace".
A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "The government takes the issue of student hardship very seriously. The funds are there to help students who get into real financial difficulty with their living costs. Not every student will need to apply for help from the funds."
Barclays Bank's annual survey of student finances earlier this month showed most students left university owing an average of Pounds 3,745.