Postgraduates to get cash help
Postgraduate students will be able to get cash help towards their living expenses from 2015, the Education Secretary has announced.
Mike Russell revealed thousands of Scottish students doing postgraduate courses at universities north of the border would be able to apply for a loan of up to £4,500.
As many as 5,000 students undertaking eligible courses - mainly in science, technology, engineering and maths - could benefit from the low interest loans, which they would then only have to repay once they were earning more than the student loan threshold, currently set at £16,365.
The help for postgraduate students was one of a package of measures of improved student support that Mr Russell unveiled at the SNP annual conference in Perth.
Cash for student bursaries will rise next year to £105 million, meeting a call from the National Union of Students (NUS) Scotland for this to increase in line with inflation.
In addition the minimum income students from poorer backgrounds get from loans and other financial support will also rise from £7,250 this year to £7,500 next year.
NUS Scotland president Gordon Maloney hailed the package as a "big step forward".
Mr Russell told SNP activists at the conference that money for education was the "best investment Scotland can make in its future".
He said the student support package would get "even better", adding: "I know that providing protection for inflation for further education students in the next academic year has been a key campaigning priority for the National Union of Students in Scotland.
"So today I am announcing a rise in the total bursaries package for colleges to £105 million, fully meeting this.
"For higher education students we have already scrapped tuition fees and introduced a minimum income of £7,250 - but that can get better and I can also announce today an increase in the minimum income next year to £7,500."
He added there was "still more we can do" as he went on to announce the loan help for postgraduate students.
Mr Russell said: "From session 2015-16 Scottish domiciled postgraduate students will be able to apply to the Students Awards Agency for a loan contribution towards not just their tuition fees but up to £4,500 in living expenses. That is a big step forward."
Mr Maloney welcomed the package, saying: "The announcements today are very good news for students in Scotland. We have asked for increased support for college, university and postgraduate students and this announcement is a big step forward.
"Students need enough money to get by to be able to concentrate on their studies. Too often, students in colleges and universities have to take on multiple part-time jobs, or go deep into commercial debt, to avoid dropping out. While, of course, grants and bursaries would be better than loans, worst of all would be no increases in support at all.
"The increase in postgraduate support is particularly welcome news, given that at the moment postgraduate students have to self-fund their way through their studies, or borrow commercial bank loans. Hopefully opening up access to living cost loans will open up new opportunities to people from poorer backgrounds towards gaining postgraduate qualifications that employers increasingly demand."
He added: "These announcements are a great step forward but there is still more work to do to get student support up to where it needs to be. We will continue to press the Scottish Government to increase student support even further, including through grants and bursaries, between now and the budget being finalised early next year. This announcement will see more money in students' pockets, and will help students from all backgrounds focus on their future rather than their finances."