Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force minutes: 12 April 2021

Published: 17 May 2021
Date of meeting: 14 Apr 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 12 April 2021.

17 May 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force minutes: 12 April 2021

Attendees and apologies

  • Higher Education & Science Division, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Colleges, Young Workforce and SFC Sponsorship, Scottish Government
  • Health & Social Care, Scottish Government
  • Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • Colleges Scotland (CS)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • National Union of Students (NUS)
  • National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA)
  • Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Further Education Student Support Advisory Group (FESSAG)
  • Universities Scotland (US)
  • Student parent

Items and actions

Coronavirus Discretionary Fund update

SAAS advised that upon entering the new Financial Year (FY), colleges and universities are now utilising the agreed ‘rollover’ amount of £5.9 million (approx. 27%) to be spent by 31 July 2021. SAAS Finance have also sent out their end of FY returns to colleges and universities which includes questions relating to the Coronavirus Discretionary Fund.

Support for students to ensure they can complete their studies

HES provided an outline of the funding package announced in response to the impact COVID-19 disruptions have had on course completion. The package of support is course specific with the overall aim being to enable students to continue and/or complete their learner journey.

The data gathered from the Data Gathering Sub-Group (which consisted of colleagues and representation from this TF) was the key source of intelligence in supporting the creation of this additional student support package. Findings from the Sub-Group highlighted that the time period in which the majority of HE courses would be required to be extended was around 8 weeks.

Higher Education (HE) students are able to access a maximum of £1600 for up to 16 weeks dependent on the period of extension and the payment will be paid in full rather than in monthly increments.

For those HE students who are required to repeat the full year of their studies, they will have access to the existing SAAS ‘+1’ where the standard support package applies of fees, bursary, grant and loans.

SFC confirmed that in terms of Further Education (FE) support for students requiring to extend their studies, students would be entitled to additional weekly bursary payments. This could be paid to students whether they were undertaking the extended activity within the current academic year or at the start of next academic year.

The Further Education Student Support Advisory Group (FESSAG) raised concerns over the one off payment being course specific and not dependent on individual student circumstances, such as those with caring responsibilities. A further concern was raised over a fair and equal approach across the FE and HE sector.

SFC confirmed that it is correct that students in FE are entitled to extra bursary payments if they are required to extend/repeat due to their individual circumstances. However, it was highlighted that this is possible because FE use a different model when administering funding which consists of weekly bursary payments.

It was also noted that in FE, students do not have access to the same ‘+1’ funding that SAAS/HE funded students are entitled to.

US raised concerns around those students who are required to repeat their placement due to illness and those who are required to repeat due to their placement being cancelled.

It was confirmed that the additional support package in this case still applies at course level and is not student specific. Therefore if placements have been cancelled by the college/university the student will be entitled to the additional support package in line with their placement period.

In terms of placements being cancelled due to travel restrictions, SAAS highlighted that the SG guidance on travel restrictions are clear that travel for work or school (universities or colleges) are permitted exceptions.

NUS welcomed the additional support package, however raised concerns that £400 a month may not be sufficient income for students over the summer months and that there is potential to see an increase in student poverty levels. It was also suggested that SAAS should introduce an extension to the SAAS ‘+1’ year for all students where they would receive an additional ‘+1’ in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

HES advised that from a policy perspective, the priority was to ensure a package of support was agreed and in place for students. SAAS and SG colleagues will continue to monitor the need for further financial support.

SAAS advised that currently, Care Experienced students already have access to an additional ‘+1’ and that those students who have previously utilised their ‘+1’ year of funding are able to appeal on compassionate grounds for a further year of funding. This option is already publicised as being available to students.

It was noted that the payment will be a lump sum and not paid in monthly increments. The reason for this is due to the effect monthly payments can have on Universal Credit (UC) entitlement.

Support for students in 2020/2021 academic year

NUS highlighted that the overall understanding at present is that students are anxious about their finances over the summer months and suggested that there is a need for some form of universal support for students over the summer period.

CS echoed concerns around support for students over the summer where the usual reliance on part-time work or parental income is not the same as previous years. From a college operational perspective, it is still not clear how many students are extending their course or how many will be starting a new course in 2021/2022.

NASMA advised that Universities are having conversations with lone parent students and explaining their entitlement to UC/benefits over the summer months. This in turn allows for better management of discretionary funds.

FESSAG suggested that the number of students required to repeat or extend is unknown however a further understanding may be obtained when students return to campus based learning after the Easter break. Concern was also raised regarding the commissioning exercise which is to be completed at the beginning of May. This timescale may be too short considering students are only returning to campus at the end of April.

Next steps

  • the current situation will continue to be monitored carefully and will become clearer as we progress through the Strategic Framework and students return to campus based learning after the Easter break

  • the next TF meeting will hopefully provide further insight on the returns from colleges and universities to establish the demand for course extensions, as well as the demand for Discretionary Funding
  • following the next TF meeting, consideration will need to be given to the recommendations to Ministers