HC Deb 05 May 2000 vol 349 cc255-6W
Mr. Webb

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what arrangements exist to provide income maintenance for persons who are forced to suspend a course of postgraduate education because of illness. [118911]

Mr. Wicks

I have been asked to reply.

Responsibility for postgraduate awards is shared with the Arts and Humanities Research Board or one of the six Research Councils, depending on the field of study. Each Research Council is an independent body, free, within the terms of its Charter and the resources available to it, to make its own decisions about expenditure on postgraduate support.

Support for postgraduate teacher training is generally provided by my Department under the Student Support Regulations. Maintenance support is in the form of a student loan. Support is payable for absence from a course due to illness for up to 60 days, and for longer periods at the discretion of the relevant local education authority, which will take into account financial hardship.

The Department provides support to 50 postgraduate students at three European Institutions, the Bologna Center, the College of Europe and the European University Institute and provides continuing support for the first 60 days of illness. Thereafter each case is considered by my Department on its own merits.

In relation to Research Council students, where a student becomes sick during their studies, arrangements vary depending on the awarding body and the nature of the course. The Economic and Social Research Council, for example, allows a student's grant to continue unaffected for the first eight weeks of sickness. The Medical Research Council continue to pay the grant at the full rate for the first 21 days of sickness and at half rate for the next 28 days and would then suspend payment.

Separate, broadly similar arrangements apply in Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the system of support for postgraduates largely follows that for undergraduates and, in the main, continues to be paid during periods of illness.

Additional assistance for postgraduate students studying in the UK who are absent from their course due to illness may be available through the Access Funds. These allow universities and colleges to provide extra discretionary support for students in particular need; and a total of £76.4 million has been made available in England for the 1999–2000 academic year.

Full-time students who interrupt their studies because of illness and have been incapable of work for 28 weeks may be eligible for income support. Details of benefits are a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security.

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