Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force: February 2021

Published: 2 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 10 Feb 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 10 February 2021.

2 Mar 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force: February 2021

Attendees and apologies


  • Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science
  • Higher Education and Science Division, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Chief Nursing Officer Directorate, Scottish Government (CNOD)
  • Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • Colleges Scotland (CS)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • National Union of Students (NUS)
  • students/student parent (student)
  • National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA)
  • Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Further Education Student Support Advisory Group (FESSAG)
  • Universities Scotland (US)

Items and actions

Welcome and purpose of task force

The chair welcomed everyone to the first meeting of the Covid-19 Student Hardship Task force (TF).

The chair then introduced the Minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science and asked for introductory remarks.

The Minister highlighted the purpose of the TF:

  • determine the financial hardship issues that have arisen specifically for students as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic
  • collate information on existing good practice and work underway across the sector and where that good practice is being delivered in regional areas, seek to consider if that can be delivered throughout all of Scotland
  • assess the effectiveness during the pandemic of Scottish Government support to students for hardship and discretionary funds delivered through SAAS, SFC, universities and colleges
  • present recommendations for rapid solutions to improve the Scottish Government’s support for all Further and Higher Education students in Scotland currently facing hardship as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic

Main concerns from TF members on student hardship

Universities Scotland (US) raised concerns regarding widening access and the particular impact on care experienced students and student carers. The impact of rent refunds and the knock on effect this has on institutions is also a particular concern.

Colleges Scotland highlighted concerns of students facing fuel poverty and food poverty. In relation to the announcement of new funds being made available, Colleges Scotland suggested a revised approach was needed where the announcement leading to the delivery of said funds is more efficient.

NUS echoed the concern of food poverty, advising that 14% of students are turning to foodbanks as a result. NUS also highlighted that some students are not aware of funds available to them and raised the concern as to how this is being communicated across institutions. Consideration should also be placed on additional funding for the summer as well as access to funds for international students.

Student representatives on the call raised concern for student parents, particularly those who are homeschooling and the support available to them during the summer. Concern was also raised for those students whose accommodation is within the private rented sector who are not subjected to rent rebates.

NASMA raised the concern regarding students who rely on discretionary funds each academic year are experiencing further financial hardship. Concerns were also echoed around support for the summer months to help mitigate the issue of student retention. It was also highlighted that staff are working at capacity in regards to administering these funds which is a particular concern when looking to administer additional funding.

CPAG echoed similar points raised by the group around students not being aware of the additional sources of funding available to them, especially those funds out with student support. Similarly, students are not aware of how student funding effects such payments.

FESSAG emphasised digital poverty and provision as a concern, particularly if blended learning continues long term. A further concern was raised regarding fee poverty as discretionary funding cannot be used to help with payment of tuition fees.

FE and HE winter COVID funds

SAAS provided an update to the group in terms of the plans for the £20 million additional hardship funding for students which was announced on Tuesday 26 January 2021. It was confirmed that a proportion of these funds would also be extended to international and EU students.

NASMA advised that opening the fund up to international and EU students means that evidence requirements will differ to that of a home student. It was suggested that a baseline approach be applied, where a baseline of evidence exists and then discretion is applied after the fact for all students.

Various members of the group raised the concern around the extensive evidence requirements for these funds and suggested that a proportionate approach be applied when assessing each students entitlement. This approach should be applied across both FE and HE.

NUS suggested that the application process should be less intimidating for students and should be made more accessible for students to apply. Some students feel anxious about asking for help from the discretionary funds and don’t recognise their own financial hardship in comparison to other students.

Colleges Scotland and NASMA raised awareness to the fact that discretionary funds are audited as they are public monies, therefore further consideration of this will be needed.

Agreed actions and next steps

  • SAAS and SFC to derive a baseline approach to evidence requested for students applying for discretionary funds
  • Discretionary Fund guidance to be updated reflecting the suggestions from the TF meeting and to be circulated to the education sector
  • explore the possibility of introducing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cover audit requirements
  • further discussion to be held regarding the most effective method of promoting the availability of FE and HE Winter Covid Fund as well as other sources of funding available to students