§ Margaret Hodge
We have greatly increased the financial support available to mature students. Nearly a quarter of a billion pounds is now spent on support for students with particular financial needs, including mature students, compared to £124 million five years ago. In the academic year 2002–03, in addition to means tested student loans (up to £4,815 in London, £3,905 elsewhere), and tuition fee grants (up to £1,100), full-time mature students can apply for dependants grants (up to £2.225 for an adult or otherwise for an eldest child, more for additional children), an additional dependants grant (£255), child care grant (up to £8,480 for two or more children), school meals grant (up to £275 per child) and travel, books and equipment grant (£510). They can also apply for discretionary support through their HE institution, in the form of £500 access bursaries, hardship funds and hardship loans. A single parent with two children in receipt of the full student loan and maximum child care grant could receive about £15,800 each year, plus discretionary support.
Part-time HE students studying on at least 50 per cent. (or more) of a full-time equivalent course are eligible for means tested fee waivers, student loans of £500 and discretionary help from the hardship funds. There are also generous non means-tested allowances for both full-time and part-time disabled students.
These arrangements are generous but overly complicated. From 2003–04 they will be simplified. A new grant (the Parents Learning Allowance worth up to £1,300) will replace the access bursary, the additional dependants grant and the travel, books and equipment grant and child dependants grant and school meals grant will be replaced by child tax credits and passported free school meals from the Inland Revenue. From 2004–05, hardship funds and loans will be replaced by grants from a new Access to Learning Fund. These streamlined arrangements will in some cases provide students with more help than they currently receive.