Threat to bursaries as bill is delayed

November 3, 2000

Scottish students risk missing out on bursaries next year because of an upheaval over the drafting of legislation on student support.

The Scottish Parliament's enterprise and lifelong learning committee this week began its consideration of the Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Bill, which will reintroduce bursaries and establish a graduate endowment scheme. But convener Alex Neil warned that the committee must now "effectively put the bill on hold" because ministers want to redraft it.

Nicol Stephen, deputy minister for education, Europe and external affairs, said now that the Scottish Executive had had time to consider the bill since its submission to parliament last month, it intended to make some changes.

Mr Neil said: "I think it is very disappointing that the proper homework wasn't done prior to this stage." He said it would be a month before the redrafted bill was presented, making it unrealistic to complete the first stage by Christmas.

The committee will meet next week to decide whether to continue taking evidence from, among others, Andrew Cubie, whose committee proposed a £25,000 earnings threshold for graduate endowment contributions rather than the government's proposed £10,000 threshold.

Mr Neil warned that unless the bill reached the royal assent stage by April, students would not receive bursaries next year.

A Scottish Executive source told The THES: "We are confident that we can still deliver so long as the committee shares that aim."

The Scottish Executive has defended its £10,000 threshold for graduate endowment contributions, saying it has added these to the loan repayment system for administrative simplicity and cost-effectiveness.

But Mandy Telford, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, said the Student Loans Company operated many different loans schemes and could collect endowment contributions at a higher level than the loan repayment threshold.

The union said any administrative costs could be met from the funds saved as the SLC phases out the old "mortgage-style" loan repayments.

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