Ministers aim to placate critics with move to lift grant threshold

July 18, 2003

The government has increased the family earnings threshold that will entitle students to the new £1,000 maintenance grant after admitting its original plans would have deprived too many students of financial help.

Higher education minister Alan Johnson told Parliament this week that students would be entitled to the full grant from next year if their families earned £15,200 or less, rather than the £10,000 announced in the higher education white paper in January. He said it would ensure that 30 per cent of students in England and Wales could benefit from the full grant.

Education secretary Charles Clarke was accused in February of causing "utter confusion" when he announced that the £10,000 threshold would have to be changed in the face of "more up-to-date data" on family incomes.

The THES revealed that just 7 per cent of families with a child approaching university age would qualify for the full grant under the plans.

Mr Johnson this week confirmed in a written parliamentary answer that the upper income threshold for the full grant would be £15,200 and that students with family incomes of between £15,201 and £21,185 would get a partial grant through a so-called taper scheme. The change will be funded from the existing Department for Education and Skills financial settlement, as the government had budgeted for 30 per cent of students getting the full grant.

Chris Weavers, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said: "We welcome the increase, but our policy is that students should be entitled to a £5,000 grant, so £1,000 is nowhere near close enough to really help poorer students."

Mr Johnson also announced details of the first-ever grant package for part-time students. Those from families earning up to £14,600, studying at least the equivalent of half of a full-time course, will be entitled to about £575 towards tuition fees from next year, capped at the equivalent of half the full-time tuition fee of £1,150. They will also be entitled to a grant of £250 towards course costs.

• The government is clearly set on awarding university titles to teaching-only universities despite widespread opposition in the academic community, writes Pat Leon.

In his first public speech as new higher education minister, at the awards ceremony for the 2003 National Teaching Fellowships in London, Alan Johnson said the most radical reform outlined in January's white paper was the change in the criteria for becoming a university to enable institutions with little or no research base to apply.


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