AROUND 31,000 higher education students are to benefit from increased financial support as part of a package of new measures, MSPs have been told.

In a statement at Holyrood Further and Higher Education Minister Shirley-Anne Somerville announced that the threshold for higher education bursaries would be raised from £19,000 to £21,000 from 2019/20.

Bursary support for the poorest young students in higher education will be increased from £1,875 to £2,000 a year.

Combined the two measures will benefit 13,500 students, she said.

Support for the poorest independent students will also rise from £875 a year to £1,000 benefiting nearly 18,000.

Bursary support in further education will also rise to up to £4,500 a year, with all eligible students aged 18 and over receiving a guaranteed bursary award.

The minister was expanding on steps set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the SNP conference in Aberdeen at the weekend, including more than £21 million of investment, an increase in the bursary for care-experienced students to £8,100 and raising the repayment threshold for student loans to £25,000.

Ms Somerville said: "Any changes being introduced or considered are with the poorest students at the forefront of my thinking.

"I want to ensure that any prospective student, regardless of their background, are equipped with what they need to fulfil their potential."

She said the government would further investigate other areas highlighted in a recent review, including support for students on benefits, part-time and disabled students and carers, with a forthcoming consultation.

Tory MSP Liz Smith pointed out that bursary support for the poorest students in higher education was £2,640 in 2013.

She also urged the government to explain why the full range of changes were not going to be made until 2021 and said she was disappointed that part-time students "received scant mention" in the statement.

Labour's Iain Gray said the government was "refusing" to abide by a key recommendation of the review that all students should have access to the equivalent of the real living wage, £8,100.

He said: "Meanwhile the increase in higher education grants does not even restore them to what they were in 2013 in real terms.

"Yet again it is going to pile even more debt onto students."

He urged the minister to "do the right thing and restore grants to levels the SNP found them at when they came to power".