Question marks over grant

October 11, 2002

Thousands of students in Wales were left in confusion this week over whether they would lose benefits if they claimed the new Welsh Assembly learning grant.

The grant, introduced this year, entitles 43,000 low-income students to up to £1,500 a year to put towards their studies. But the Department for Work and Pensions has said that some students might lose up to £1,000 in benefits if they claim the grant because it will be counted as income.

This has caused trouble for the assembly, which called the grant a significant step towards widening participation. Assembly education minister Jane Davidson is to hold emergency talks with work and pensions minister Malcolm Wicks on Monday to try to iron out the problems.

Teresa Rees, professor of social sciences at Cardiff University, led the review of student support in Wales that resulted in the grants. She said the grant should be treated like the education maintenance allowance in England.

But an anomaly in work and pensions legislation means that low-income mature students and single parents stand to lose benefits because they are entitled to the biggest grants.

"The problem is that this has set up a great deal of confusion among students, though only a small number will be affected. It seems likely it will be sorted out soon," Professor Rees said.

Students' union leaders said that the most likely to be affected were the poorest students, whom the grant aimed to help. Tom McGarry, president of NUS Wales, called it an example of Whitehall trying to assert its power.

Higher Education Wales, the organisation representing Welsh vice-chancellors and principals, said it was disappointed to learn that some students might suffer benefit cuts.

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