Minister for the Department of Employment and Learning, Dr Stephen Farry, has revealed that he will be “launching a consultation on part-time and postgraduate taught student support”, which will look at issues such as “the frequency of student support payments”.
This announcement comes following the compilation of the ‘Pound in Your Pocket’ report published by NUS-USI in 2014. The aim of this research was to better understand further and higher education students’ experience of financial support, sources of income for living expenses and to examine the extent to which financial considerations affect student wellbeing.
4315 students participated in the study and 35% of those surveyed considered ‘dropping out’ and leaving their course due financial difficulties. Furthermore 45% of students surveyed said they struggled to concentrate on their studies because they worry about finance.
At the 2014 NUS-USI annual conference, delegates discussed the reports findings before agreeing “to campaign for monthly student loan payments, including the summer period”. NUS-USI believe increasing the frequency at which student support payments are paid will help to enable students to better handle their finances, therefore reducing the level of student concern.
Last semester a similar was proposed at QUB Student Council by NUS-USI delegate and QUB Student Councillor, Sarah Wright:
This motion received unanimous support from QUB student councillors.
In October 2014, following a lengthy process of student lobbying, Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan asked the Minister of Employment and Learning for his “assessment of the appropriateness of providing student support payments on a tri-annual basis” and questioned “whether he (would) change the frequency of when students receive support payments”.
The Minister responded that the current finance system, which sees student support payments paid at the beginning of each academic term, to be “appropriately flexible as it allows students to meet up-front costs associated with each term” and enables students to “plan ahead accordingly”. Minster Farry further stated that “smaller and more frequent payments could leave students struggling to meet certain up-front costs” at the start of term, such as accommodation, textbooks and equipment. Due to these concerns, the Minister made it cleat that he “(did) not intend to change the frequency of when students receive support payments”.
However the Minister’s views seem to have changed following his attendance at the 2015 NUS-USI annual conference. On Monday afternoonOn Monday afternoon, Minister Farry made a 180 degree turn on his October statement, telling the Assembly that he “will shortly be launching a consultation on part-time and postgraduate taught student support”. He said that is “happy to explore…potential modifications to the frequency of student support payments” which were made at the NUS-USI conference.
The Minister’s Alliance party colleague, MLA Paula Bradley fully endorsed the Ministers stating that “concern around student finance has been a live issue for some time and one which students from Queen’s University have been in regular contact with me about….I would encourage all student groups to get involved and make sure their voices are heard (during the consultation process).”
As reported by The Scoop last week Sinn Fein MLA, Phil Flanagan, has encouraged students to have a say in this process and support an increase in the frequency of support payments by establishing an online petition. The amount of signatures currently stands at 111, however it requires a further 889 before it can be formally lodged.
We would like to hear your thoughts on the current student support payment system and how, if at all, more frequent payments would impact upon your further or higher education experience. Do not hesitate to comment on our Facebook page, or tweet us @TheScoopQUB.
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