Publication - Minutes

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force minutes: 16 March 2021

Published: 8 May 2021
Date of meeting: 16 Mar 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 16 March 2021.

8 May 2021
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Further Education/Higher Education Student Hardship Task Force minutes: 16 March 2021

Attendees and apologies


  • Higher Education & Science Division, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Colleges, Young Workforce and SFC Sponsorship, Scottish Government
  • Chief Nursing Officer Directorate, Scottish Government (CNOD)
  • 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
  • Student representative

Items and actions

Intelligence gathering on course extension/deferrals

SAAS provided an update in relation to the data capturing sub-group that was created as an extension of the TF where the purpose was to gather intelligence relating to course deferrals and extensions at Higher Education (HE) level.

It was advised that the data collected provides information on the number of impacted students as well as impacted courses and that SAAS and SG colleagues are satisfied with the amount of data which has been collected to date.

SAAS confirmed the intention is to start modelling outcomes based on these numbers and therefore a further meeting of the sub-group would not be needed.

SFC advised that they are currently working with CS to refine numbers from a Further Education (FE) perspective and that information will be distributed to the sector in due course.

Coronavirus Discretionary Fund update

SAAS advised that the legal determination and guidance for the Higher Education (HE) Winter Covid Fund has now been updated to reflect the decision to extend £5.9 million of this fund (approx. 27%) to be spent by 31 July 2021. This also applies to EU and international students.

SFC confirmed that colleges in FE will be able to utilise the Winter Covid Fund monies up until the end of the Academic Year (AY) (31 July 2021).

Support for vulnerable student groups

FESSAG advised that additional financial support isn’t always the only support required. It was advised that the group should adopt a holistic approach when considering what support can be given to students.

NASMA suggested that there are students who would be considered vulnerable and not classed as one of the main vulnerable student groups. Institutions are usually able to pick up on a student’s vulnerability and need for support however, it is difficult to pin point particular vulnerable groups under the current circumstances.

Mental Health was one of the key issues highlighted from the group discussion when considering the impact Covid-19 has had on the student population.

The Scottish Government have committed to investing in counselling provisions and £4.4 million of mental health funding has been made available to colleges in support of this commitment.

CS advised that there is an urgent need for Mental Health First Aiders to provide help and support to students and to bridge the gap before being signposted to a counsellor.

US advised that at present, the demand for counselling has reduced due to learning from home. A return to campus could see a spike in the demand for counselling services. Consideration should be given to upskill of all staff within the institution to conduct wellbeing conversations with students to ensure students are aware of the support available to them.

It was noted that the results from the ‘Thriving Learner’s Survey’ will provide further understanding of the mental health and wellbeing of students in Scotland.

CNOD advised that DG Health have been asked by the Council of Deans for Health to look at mental health support for healthcare students as they can undertake challenging clinical placements and how clinical academic staff can be better supported to help students.

Student representatives on the group echoed the concerns around mental health and also highlighted the negative impact of learning from home could have when students are required to return to campus learning.

NASMA raised concerns for students who are suffering a bereavement where they have also been appointed next of kin, meaning they have had to take on the burden of funeral costs. It was noted that support for funeral costs can be provided by Social Security Scotland, however students are not currently able to claim this support unless they are entitled to or in receipt of certain benefits.

CPAG highlighted that although students are not typically eligible to claim benefits, certain benefits previously administered by the UK Government, now fall under the Scottish Government’s jurisdiction. Consideration could be given to allowing students to be added to the list of people eligible to claim support. Bereaved students and student carers are particularly vulnerable groups that would benefit from having this additional support.

NUS raised concerns regarding support for estranged students. It was advised that students who are estranged from their parents can currently receive the maximum Independent Student Bursary from SAAS.  The data gathering project committed by SG to understand issues faced by estranged students was paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic but would aim to recommence at a later date.

Agreed Actions and Next Steps

  • SAAS and HES to hold discussions with Social Security Scotland around student entitlement to benefits
  • SAAS to explore data sharing agreements relating to sharing household income information with colleges/universities
  • SAAS to work in collaboration with NASMA on way to effectively promote discretionary funds to students
  • the next TF meeting will revisit the previous discussion on summer support for students as well as a discussion on the 2021/2022 Academic Year