The government has announced that higher education scholarships will soon be available for the children of servicemen and women killed in action.
The government also intends to continue and expand an existing scheme, which pays the tuition fees for service leavers who take up level three further education or undergraduate courses for the first time. This scheme is funded by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Ministry of Defence.
These announcements instigate two commitments given by the new Conservative-Liberal coalition government. The scholarships mean that the families of deceased veterans will be financially able to attend university. The second of the schemes allows those servicemen and women, who left school at 16, to be able to attain A-levels, which could be vital for them to enter back into employment.
It will also enable military personnel who left school at 18 to attain a university degree. In its first year 64 people benefited from this scheme. Its expansion is set to include those who have been discharged due to medical reasons.
David Willetts, the universities minister, stated that the families of those who have died on active duty in the last 20 years will be granted access to £8,200 annual scholarships for higher education courses.
Willetts said the purpose of this scheme is to repay the debt society owes to these brave men and women who have risked and lost their lives for the country.
The estimated cost of this new scheme, however, is £800,000 which implies that only around 100 scholarships will be made available each year.
Between 2003 and 2009, 179 UK soldiers lost their lives in Iraq. A further 340 people have died serving in the British forces in Afghanistan since 2001, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Defence. It is yet to be seen whether there will be enough scholarships to account for all the families affected by these fatalities.
Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, said: “I welcome this announcement which highlights the government’s commitment to ensuring our Armed Forces have the support they need, and that veterans and their families are treated with the dignity they deserve.”
The announcements of these scholarships came a week before the review of university finances, which plans to lift the cap on university fees, which currently stand at £3290. This could mean that even the few who are eligible for the new scholarships could still face extra charges not covered by the government-funded scheme. David Willetts claims that these scholarships are a “small way of recognising the ultimate sacrifice they [the military servicemen and women] have made.”