Sinn Fein MLA Phil Flanagan has launched a petition to lobby the Department of Employment and Learning (DEL) Minister, Stephen Farry, to reform the way students receive their student loan support payments.

Under the current system, students receive their support payments on a tri-annual basis which is designed to align with the beginning of each term of the academic year.

In an interview with The Scoop, Mr Flanagan – who is a student himself – explained to us what made him create the petition.

“There is a clear demand from many students that I speak to for a change in how they receive their support payments, including student loan payments. Students I speak to tell me that they want to receive these payments monthly to enable them to better budget for the academic year. No-one else would be expected to live with only three payments a year so why should students.”

We took to Twitter to ask for some views!

  Not everybody agreed however…

Phil Flanagan explained that he wasn’t satisfied with the response he received from the DEL Minister when he raised the issue with him in October 2014.

In response to a question asked by the Sinn Fein MLA, Minister Farry stated clearly; “I do not intend to change the frequency of when students receive support payments.”

Stephen Farry believes that the tri-annual payment of the student loan is “appropriately flexible” as he feels that the current system allows students to meet the up-front costs associated with each term. If the system was to change, the Minister believes students could struggle to meet “up-front costs which they face at the beginning of term”.

Asked whether Mr Flanagan has any target number of signatories that he would like to reach before he takes any further action, he talked of his intentions to organise stalls in colleges and universities “to get the maximum number of people to support this campaign.”

In addition to this, he set out his intention to host an event in Stormont in May or June which would ‘allow students to speak directly to MLAs about the impact that the current system has on them.’

The possibility of raising this issue in the Northern Ireland Assembly as a debate wasn’t ruled out by the Sinn Fein MLA. He added that “the first thing that needs to happen is for students to send a clear message that they want to see this change take place and remove any doubts that may exist within MLAs or department officials.”

Phil Flanagan confirmed that he hasn’t yet raised the issue with his Sinn Fein colleague and Education Minister, John O’Dowd, but did say that “I’m sure that anyone who was ever a student will understand the rationale behind the campaign and offer their support.”

The petition currently has 21 signatures and can be viewed here.

Paul Wyatt

Paul Wyatt is one of the founding scoop members. As one of our on-the-ground reporters, Paul reports on anything and everything happening in Queen's, the greater Belfast area, and beyond.

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