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Minister promises review into social work student final year bursaries

In a letter to campaigners, Scotland’s Minister for Further & Higher Education has said reviews are taking place on options to improve financing for those social work students who undertake work placements.

28/06/23

Minister promises review into social work student final year bursaries

Scottish social work students have secured a major step forward in their campaign for bursaries in the final years of their studies.

Writing to campaigners, Minister for Further & Higher Education, Graeme Dey MSP, said reviews are taking place on options to improve financing for those social work students who undertake work placements.

Currently, social work students work unpaid on the front-line working with vulnerable people in their final year. Students for other frontline roles – such as those in nursing, midwifery and paramedic – can receive bursaries totalling a non-repayable £37,500. For social work students, however, the basic support available is between £20,400 and £32,400 – mostly in the form of a repayable loan and depending on household income.

A cross-party committee of MSPs agreed to look into the support available for social work university students after more than 2,100 people signed a petition calling on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to ensure social work students have access to adequate financial support during their studies.

Social work students, backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW), argue that this would ensure equality with other students who work in the public sector in front-line roles during their studies.

“Unlike nurses and paramedics, when social work undergraduates spend nine months on placements in their third and fourth years, there are no bursaries to help them,” the petition said.

“This means social work students have to work full-time on a placement, study and work shifts or rely on foodbanks to make ends meet.”

The Minister’s reply to students states that the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) has commissioned a review of practice learning finance, which will report in August and Scottish Government officials are “working with sector partners to explore options for improvements to postgraduate bursaries.”

“There is also work planned covering practice learning and an options appraisal for improving routes into social work.”

The reply goes on to state that “the SSSC are also working with relevant universities and the Social Work Education Partnership (SWEP) to explore additional funding models across social work education more widely, working with social work universities to consider collectively how social work students can be supported through the current pressures faced... Additionally, Scottish Government Higher Education officials are undertaking a Review of Postgraduate study. This review is ongoing, with initial outputs announced for the 2023/24 Academic Year in March 2023."

Lucy Challoner, one of the organisers at the head of the student-led campaign, said the news was a “major step forward” and thanked the Scottish Government for “listening to the strength of feeling on this issue.”

“We look forward to speaking with the Minister when the reviews are complete to ensure we have a fair way forward for social work students.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, which backed the campaign, commented: “We understand the financial pressures the Scottish Government is facing, but the student’s campaign is about two basic principles, that people should be fairly compensated for doing front-line work in the public sector and that students on social work courses should be treated like their peers on nursing and paramedic degrees and receive bursaries while on placements.”

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