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 £105m, 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”.
“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. – NUS Scotland President Gordon Maloney
The Scottish Government also announced a new scholarship programme to help young women from Pakistan to go to university.
The Scottish Government is putting up £300,000 for the initiative, with External Affairs Minister Humza Yousaf saying it would help these females “achieve their potential and ambitions”.
The scholarship was inspired by 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot in the head while travelling on a school bus in Pakistan last October after her outspoken views on education and women’s rights angered the Taliban.
More than seven million children in Pakistan do not attend school, with girls much more likely than boys to miss out on an education.
The two-year Masters scholarship scheme announced by the Scottish Government will help around 30 to 40 young Pakistani women from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, and will cover their university fees as well as assisting with living expenses and travel costs.