Student Support Stakeholder Engagement Group minutes: April 2023

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 20 April 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Lifelong Learning and Skills Directorate, Scottish Government (SG) (Chair)
  • Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • Colleges Scotland (CS)
  • College Development Network (CDN)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • National Union of Students (NUS)
  • Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Further Education Student Support Advisory Group (FESSAG)
  • Universities Scotland (US)
  • National Association of Student Money Advisers (NASMA)

Items and actions

Student Support Update 

Scottish Government (SG) advised that following the appointment of the new First Minister and consequent appointment of a new Cabinet, Ms Jenny Gilruth has been appointed as the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Skills and Mr Graeme Dey has been appointed as the new Minister for Higher and Further Education and the Minister for Veterans.

For the 2023/24 academic year (AY), SG have announced a £900 loan uplift for all standard undergraduate student support packages. This means that the most vulnerable students will be able to access £9,000 in bursary and loan support. For Care Experienced students, this will be provided as a £900 bursary uplift. 

This uplift contributes to the Programme for Government commitment to increase student support to reach the equivalent of the living wage and will also help to mitigate the impact of the cost of living crisis on students. 

The postgraduate tuition fee loan will also be increased from £5,500 to £7,000 which was a recommendation from the ongoing Postgraduate Review. 

SAAS reported that the agency had opened for applications for the new 2023/24 AY on 3 April 2023. 

Following the result of a recent Judicial Review, a Payment Scheme had been launched to provide financial remedy to students who may have been affected by the previous long residence conditions, which were ruled as unlawful.

A public consultation was launched on 24 January 2023 on proposed changes to residency criteria in Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE), which closed on 30 March. 

SFC advised that they have been working with SG on the new Scottish Carer’s Assistance and have also joined the Student Income and Expenditure Survey (SIES) Research Advisory Group. SFC also published National Equality Outcomes with the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in January 2023. 

FESSAG raised the issue of In-Year Redistributions (IYR) of discretionary funding and queried if there was a possibility of increasing flexibility for HE Discretionary Funds in future. 

SAAS advised that remaining unspent funds from the International Students’ Emergency Fund can be used to supplement HE Discretionary Funds. This fund is suitable for use in a number of situations and offers a level of flexibility that was not available previously.

SFC and SAAS suggested that a discussion on support available for disabled students and obligations on public bodies to provide reasonable adjustments could be brought to a future meeting, as it would be useful to hear the sector’s view on this topic. 

Stakeholder Spotlight

NUS presented the NUS Fighting for Students: Cost of Survival report 2023, which builds on their previous research conducted in 2022. 

The report looked at issues such as payment of energy bills, rent, travel costs and student employment. 

Members of the Group were invited to submit questions and comments via email. 

Tackling The Cost of Living Crisis 

The Chair introduced the group discussion on Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis, which was intended to be a space to share best practice across the sectors on how institutions are supporting students in the face of the cost of living crisis.

Responses from stakeholders included offering free breakfasts for students, university food banks and opening warm spaces at universities. 

US held a Poverty Roundtable in October, which provided an overview of what universities and colleges were doing to support students. 

FESSAG noted that the cost of living crisis may have increased the risk of domestic abuse among students.  

It was also suggested that simplifying mandatory documentation for HE Discretionary Funds could be useful for institutions. 

CDN reported that data collected by individual colleges on FE students means it is easier to identify students from a lower income background when assessing their eligibility for discretionary funding, whereas this data is not collected for HE students as they apply directly to SAAS for their student support. 

SAAS advised that difficulties in evidencing for HE Discretionary Fund support has stemmed previously from external audit requirements placed on the institutions. A Guiding Principles document was created and published last year, which aimed to bring in a level of consistency of approach across the sector in regards to evidencing. 

Developing a Purpose and Principles for Post School Education, Research and Skills ecosystem

The Reform Division, which is part of the SG Lifelong Learning & Skills Directorate, have been creating and engaging on the Purpose and Principles, a decision-making framework in response to SFC’s recommendation that SG should set out more clearly its longer-term strategic intent for tertiary education and research in Scotland. 

The Purpose and Principles are one part of ongoing work around educational reform. They sit alongside the National Discussion on Education, the Independent Review of Qualifications and Assessments and the Skills Delivery Landscape Review

Scoping was undertaken as part of Phase 1 and was published in summer 2022. Stakeholders were then approached to assist with the development of the interim Purpose and Principles, which were published in December 2022.

It was noted that the final Purpose and Principles would be published in summer 2023. Members of the Group were invited to submit questions and comments via email on the Purpose and Principles work.

Next Steps 

To consider a discussion on reasonable adjustments for disabled students as an agenda item at the group’s next meeting. 

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