Brussels can lighten the course: EC grants provide financial support for thousands of students, writes Paul Gosling

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of British students about to start university courses are benefiting from European Community grants - either to supplement their local authority grants or to pay them while they study for a post-graduate course. However, conditions attached to the schemes are tight, and many students are becoming confused as they try to find out their entitlements.

Many universities have recognised the potential for assisting students and have arranged courses so that students are eligible for EC assistance.

About 15,000 students are entitled to grants under the Erasmus programme as a consequence of attending British university courses that include overseas visits as part of the study.

The Lingua programme is a similar scheme, which promotes foreign language tuition. Each university's prospectus should have specified whether a particular course might attract Erasmus or Lingua grants, and university officials will be able to advise further. The payment is in essence a subsistence payment if the cost of living is higher in the other study country than in the UK.

A further 10,000 students are being paid grants from the European Social Fund to attend courses that are considered vocational. Many local authority organised training programmes are financed in this way, but so too are some Higher National Diploma and MSc courses.

Again, only students who are attending courses that are approved may be paid a grant through this scheme, and payment arrangements are up to the individual institution. Trainees are not required to be paid, and the educational institution may use all the funds for the course itself. Some students are paid as much as pounds 6,000 for a one-year course.

A more typical instance, however, is the university where MSc students in library studies, which incorporates information technology training, are paid pounds 90 a week for a 44-week course. Only students who were previously unemployed (for a year if over 25, or for six months if younger) are eligible. Payments will normally only be available to priority categories, such as people living in an area of economic decline, those with disabilities, ethnic minorities and women training for work where there is a traditional male bias.

Recipients may be disappointed to learn they will be paid in sterling, not Ecus.

Students who are not entitled to EC payments may find that learning to live on a restricted grant is one of the hardest lessons of all. Mandatory grants have been frozen since 1990, and local authorities are increasingly reluctant to pay discretionary grants.

A few lucky students will be successful in applying for charitable donations. For full details of possible grant-making bodies, consult the Directory of Grant Making Trusts, The Grant Register and the Charities Digest, which should all be held by your local library.

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