£500 payment per student ‘a welcome boost’
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Economy Minister Diane Dodds has announced that almost 40,000 students across the north will receive the money, which will be distributed by their college or university.
Full-time higher education students at Ulster University and the North West Regional College are among the 39,900 students across the north who are eligible, as well as those studying at Queen’s University, Stranmillis University College, St Mary’s University College and the other five regional colleges.
Minister Dodds said: “I am acutely aware that students in local higher education institutions have experienced significant disruption since the onset of the pandemic and that this continues to have an impact.
“I am pleased to announce that I have secured £22million from the Executive to fund a one-off discretionary payment of £500 to all students from the UK and EU who are in full-time education in Northern Ireland, whether that is in university or further education college setting.”
Money is also being provided to help student unions increase mental health and wellbeing support, while colleges will receive funding to help them carry out modifications and invest in PPE and other equipment to ensure they can delivery teaching and learning in a Covid-compliant way.
Local politicians and education sector officials have been lobbying for relief for students.
SDLP Economy Spokesperson, Foyle MLA Sinead McLaughlin said that while there are issues outstanding around those studying in Britain and part-time students, this was “a fantastic move” and paid tribute to young advocates for a Student Support Fund. “This is a testament to their work,” she said. “While £500 is not everything students deserve, it will provide some relief to the many who have been struggling and I welcome the fact Minister Dodds has finally adopted our proposal. There are still many issues outstanding, particularly how we support part time students and those studying in Britain and I will continue to encourage the Economy and Finance Ministers to work together to bring forward proposals to support these groups. They cannot and should not be left behind.”
Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Karen Mullan meanwhile said: “This is a good news day for students, universities and colleges. Every full-time student studying in the north will receive a £500 payment, that means that over £22million of this money is going directly into the pockets of students. They can also avail of the hardship fund which will be increased by £8.5 million.
“The priority for Economy Minister Diane Dodds now is getting this money out the door quickly to support our hard-pressed students.”
Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice-Chancellor, Ulster University, said: “We welcome this funding commitment from the Department, which recognises the significant challenges faced by university students during the pandemic.
“We continue to ensure a safe campus environment for those with essential on-campus learning and our well established digital learning platforms provide a rewarding and interactive experience for students studying online. Our residences remain open to provide a safe and secure space in which students might prefer to reside at this time.
“We understand that student life during a pandemic can be an anxious time and are committed to supporting our students academically and personally. Our Student Wellbeing team is on hand to help, with all services available online, including financial support. We will work closely with the Department to distribute these additional funds to our students as soon as possible.”