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A grant increase which is one-off – or not?

June 23, 2015

Last month the Cabinet Secretary for Education announced an increase in bursaries of £125, for all students with incomes below £24,000.

The SAAS website has now been updated to reflect this – but here’s an odd thing.  It says (emphasis added):

The amount of bursary you can get will depend on the household income in your permanent home.

Bursary and loan details
Household income Bursary Loan Total
£0 to £16,999* £1,875 £5,750 £7,625
£17,000 to £23,999* £1,125 £5,750 £6,875
£24,000 to £33,999 £500 £5,750 £6,250
£34,000 and above £0 £4,750 £4,750

* This includes a one off payment of £125 which will be available to these students in early 2016.

So this is not a conventional grant increase. Instead, in January the students affected will get a “one-off” extra payment.  I don’t think there’s ever been anything quite like this done in the grant system.  Usually any grant increase is simply built in from the start of the year.

Why the government is going to the extra trouble (and potential confusion for students)  of a stand alone payment is unclear.  Specifically, when it is described as a one-off, does this mean this is just a payment being made this year, but might not be repeated? That might explain why SAAS is not going to the trouble of updating its basic systems. But in fact that can’t be it – last month’s press notice says (emphasis added):

Thousands of students from the poorest backgrounds are to receive more financial support over the coming years under plans announced by the Scottish Government.

Bursaries for higher education students from Scottish households with an income of up to £24,000 will increase by £125 from academic year 2015/16.

Maybe it’s still come too late to be programmed into the system safely.

And why wait till “early 2016” and not give it to students sooner, when it might come in handy, particularly for the 28% of students who only claim their grant and decline any loan, most of whom almost certainly live at home and who might find it useful to help pay for an annual season ticket or a new student railcard (£120)?  The only good defence for the delay would be that this is the absolute soonest SAAS can bolt this on.

The late announcement of this extra amount  was already pushing the boundaries of conventional behaviour round student grant.  This aspect of the handling adds a whole new twist.

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