Publication - Minutes

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

Published: 23 Mar 2021
Date of meeting: 1 Mar 2021
Location: Video conference

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 1 March 2021.

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

Attendees and apologies


  • Higher Education and 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)


  • Student representatives

Items and actions

Coronavirus Discretionary Fund update

SAAS reconfirmed that EU and international students are able to apply for support from this fund. It was advised that EU and international students can access this fund for PCR testing and managed isolation costs if their travel has been deemed as essential and the student is in financial hardship. All Nursing and Midwifery students are also now able to access this fund as well.

Previous concerns raised around the 31 March 2021 deadline for spending these funds were addressed and it was confirmed that colleges and universities (for HE student support) are able to carryover up to £5.9 million of this fund (approx. 27%) into the next financial year (FY) which has to be spent by 31 July 2021, being the end of the 2020-21 Academic Year (AY).

SFC have confirmed a similar approach will be adopted for the FE sector.

Learner Journey Ministerial Taskforce update

An update was given in relation to the second meeting of the Learner Journey Ministerial Taskforce (TF) which took place on 23 February. The TF is currently focusing on the first 5 immediate actions from their 8 point action plan where information is being gathered on student issues in relation to repeat or extensions to study. The information obtained will then feed into the student support options thus linking up with the aims of the Student Hardship Taskforce.

NASMA advised that institutions are already forward planning and are looking at ring fencing a proportion of their discretionary fund allocation to support students who are facing an extension to their studies out with the normal funding period.

FESSAG raised concerns that some students face repeating the entire course year due to the lack of time available to complete their course in the 20/21 AY. Consideration should be given to the funding position of these students.

NUS suggested that an extra year of funding should be provided for those students who need it. There is a broad spectrum of extensions and consideration should be given to building a flexible system that will support all students. 

CNOD advised that the length of extension period required to complete a placement currently ranges between 2-6 months. Placement availability is also a concerning factor.

US are currently in discussion with various stakeholders in relation to course extensions and resources needed. Due to the current restrictions and various protection levels, the group will need to be mindful of the changing landscape.

Course completion and impact on financial support over summer

CPAG provided an overview of the benefits cycle in terms of the support available to students over the summer period. There are no special rules for students over the summer months and the normal eligibility rules for students apply all year round. The key benefits discussed were: Universal Credit (UC), Tax Credits, Scottish Child Payment and the Best Start Grant.

It was advised that when students are considering moving from Tax Credits to UC, they should conduct a ‘Better Off Calculation’ to determine which would be better for them before committing to a switch.

In terms of the financial support available over summer, SAAS reiterated that the maximum rollover of £5.9 million of the HE Winter Covid Fund (approx. 27%) along with remaining funds within the main HE Discretionary Fund pots can be used to support students up until 31 July 2021. The group were invited to give their views on how these funds can be utilised and if any further support would be needed.

NASMA advised that it is difficult to forecast or determine the demand for financial support over the summer months at present. During the summer months, discretionary funds are no longer administered as a top-up to financial support but in fact the sole income for a student.

FESSAG suggested that the demand for support will be different in FE and HE. The group should be mindful of an increased demand for payment of travel expenses and support from the Childcare Discretionary Fund should students be required to complete their placements over the summer and are in need of childcare.

NUS made the group aware that some institutions are looking at extending learning for students by means of a summer programme or summer school which will also have an effect on employment possibilities. An extension to summer support should be considered. Concern was raised about using the Discretionary Fund model over the summer period when students are not in attendance at their institution.

It was agreed that the discussion around summer support will be kept as a recurring agenda item and will evolve as updates are received relating to the ease of restrictions and the revised Strategic Framework.

SAAS advised their intention is to set up a sub-group to gain a deeper understanding of course extensions and deferrals and how this translates into student support. Members of the group were asked to contact SAAS should they be interested in contributing to this data collection exercise.


The group discussed the best approach to engage with and direct students towards various funds. Members of the group were asked to share what currently works well and what could be improved in terms of communicating with students.

FESSAG suggested that there should be a consistent message across all institutions where a standard statement could be sent out collectively by SAAS or SFC.

NASMA raised concerns that as these funds are discretionary a structured approach may not be the best approach. It was also advised that it is good practice to direct students to specific webpages relating to discretionary funding or student support services as opposed to students being generally advised to contact their institution. 

The group acknowledged that institutions receive a large volume of enquiries when an announcement or correspondence out with the institution is issued to students, specifically when the announcement advises to contact their institution. Consideration should be given to the impact this has and improvements should be made to mitigate against an influx in enquiries like this in future.

Agreed actions and next steps

  • information to be circulated to the HE and FE sector on the total carryover amount of the Winter Covid Fund in to the next FY to be spent by 31 July 2021
  • consideration to be given to the possibility of a different discretionary fund application process for FE students due to student financial information being held on college systems
  • creation of a Data Capturing Subgroup to pull together intelligence on information relating to deferrals/course extensions at both colleges and universities