Student Support Stakeholder Engagement Group minutes: November 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 10 November 2022.

Attendees and apologies

  • Lifelong Learning and Skills Division, Scottish Government (Chair)
  • Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS)
  • Social Security Policy, Scottish Government (SSP)
  • Colleges Scotland (CS)
  • Scottish Funding Council (SFC)
  • National Union of Students (NUS)
  • Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)
  • Further Education Student Support Advisory Group (FESSAG) 
  • Universities Scotland (US)

Items and actions

 Terms of reference and membership 

The Chair welcomed members to the first repurposed meeting of the Student Support Stakeholder Engagement Group (SSSEG). 

The Chair outlined the Terms of Reference for the group, which had been issued to members prior to the meeting. This included the strategic context, purpose, remit and membership of the group.

NUS proposed that research and engagement with students could be included in the group’s remit and suggested including students in the group’s membership on an ad hoc basis. 

Universities Scotland suggested inviting representatives from universities and colleges to represent their sectors, as they would have a clear idea of the issues students are facing and could offer expertise on specific topics. 

FESSAG agreed that including representatives from the Further Education (FE) sector would be useful for the group as this would encourage more discussion around FE related subjects. 

Postgraduate review 

The Programme for Government 2021-22 committed to reviewing the funding provision for postgraduate students. The Scottish Government and SAAS provided an update on the review and presented the initial outputs to the group for the 2023-24 Academic Year (AY).

Initial outcomes include a tuition fee loan uplift of £1,500 to £7,000, to accommodate a rise in tuition fee costs since the £5,500 tuition fee loan was introduced in 2017. This brings the total funding package to £11,500 for full-time students.

Postgraduate support will also be extended to include all eligible courses in the rest of the UK, rather than just those where there is no equivalent course available in Scotland. Additionally, eligible courses at validated private providers in Scotland and the rest of the UK will become eligible for support. These changes ensure that the postgraduate funding scheme is further aligned with the support available at undergraduate level.

Recommendations for the 2024-25 AY and beyond were also discussed, which includes reviewing course eligibility further and widening access commitments.

SAAS highlighted that increasing the tuition fee loan should help students retain their living cost loan for its intended purpose and help to mitigate against the cost of living crisis. In addition, extending support to include all postgraduate courses in the rest of the UK will have a positive impact for SAAS Operations staff, as this will reduce processing time for postgraduate applications.

CPAG commented that a rise in the fee loan would be beneficial for students on Universal Credit as this increase would have no impact on the amount of loan being regarded as income by the DWP.

Scottish Carer’s Assistance 

SSP attended the meeting to report on the ongoing work around the development of the new Scottish Carer’s Assistance (SCA) which will replace Carer’s Allowance in Scotland. This is currently administered by the DWP on behalf of the UK Government.

SSP advised that a public consultation on SCA was held which closed in May 2022. One of the proposals included in the consultation was the removal of the education restriction, as currently full-time students are not eligible to receive Carer’s Allowance. The removal of this restriction will allow full-time students to access SCA. An analysis of the responses received from the consultation has been published on the Scottish Government website.

SSP reported that they have been working with SAAS to discuss interaction between SCA and student support as it is important that SCA is not taken into account as income when assessing a student’s entitlement to funding. SAAS will also be working with SFC to produce guidance for HE and FE to ensure that SCA is not taken into account as income for student support purposes.

CPAG expressed concern that school students would not be eligible for SCA and advised that this may cause confusion as college students will be able to apply.

FESSAG advised that the removal of the education restriction will be a welcome change, as many student carers are currently required to give up their Carer’s Allowance upon entering full-time education.

Student wellbeing 

The Scottish Government advised that work is ongoing to deliver the Programme for Government commitment to introduce more than 80 additional mental health counsellors in colleges and universities.

The Student Mental Health and Wellbeing Working Group, chaired by the Minister for Higher Education and Further Education, Youth Employment and Training, is driving forward work on the development of a Student Mental Health Plan. This Plan will align with the Scottish Government’s Suicide Prevention Plan, the emerging Self Harm Strategy and Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy.  

The Scottish Government also reported that the Cost of Living (Tenant Protection) (Scotland) Act 2022 came into force on 28 October 2022. Regarding colleges and university halls of residence and Purpose Built Student Accommodation, the Act introduced a cap on increases in rental fees and a moratorium on evictions, except in the case of criminal or anti-social behaviour, which will be in place until March 2023.

The purpose of the Act is to protect tenants and mitigate against the cost of living crisis. Students who are in the private rental sector are also covered by the Act.

The Scottish Government Student Accommodation Group will review the operation of the Act. This Group includes a number of stakeholders such as ASRA, CUBO, UCU, UNITE and UNISON.

NUS highlighted that there is a need for immediate action on student wellbeing and suggested that a roundtable could be scheduled to share practical ideas and solutions for students from different stakeholders and institutions.

Universities Scotland and NUS raised the issue that demand for additional support for international students is still high, however they are not eligible to apply for the main FE and HE Discretionary Funds.

Agreed actions and next steps

  • Scottish Government to consider extending the membership of the SSSEG to include additional representation from institutions and more specifically, the further education sector
  • to determine the relevant Programme for Government commitments to be considered as part of the remit of the SSSEG
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