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Students in Northern Ireland to receive £500 ‘disruption payment’

In an announcement by the Economy Minister for Northern Ireland, Diane Dodds, students were informed that they would receive a £500 “Covid Disruption Payment” to recognise the difficulties faced by students as a result of the pandemic.

Students enrolled in institutions across the rest of the UK have, as of yet, not been offered an equivalent.

All UK and EU full time higher education students enrolled in courses in Northern Ireland will receive it – approximately 40,000.

Crucially, this currently misses out Northern Irish students studying elsewhere in the UK as well as part-time students.

UK Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan, announced an extra £50 million of funding for students earlier this month.

Along with the £20 million announced in December, this gives £70 million to support students affected by the pandemic this financial year.

Whilst the Northern Irish government has ensured every full-time student receives support, the UK government have allowed Universities to use their discretion to distribute these funds.

They have also encouraged Universities to ensure that their rent policies are in the best interests of their students, but have not made rent refunds compulsory or implemented decisive action to benefit the many students still paying for unused private accommodation.

Despite this being a welcome addition, the growing clamour amongst the student population for partial tuition fee refunds remains.

In an open letter, the Vice Chancellors of multiple British Universities asked the government for a 15-month waiver on student loan interest to ease some of the pressure felt by recent graduates.

As well as the disruption payments, a wider support package was announced in Northern Ireland, including £8.5 million for student hardship, £4.1 million to provide a safe working and learning environment and £3.1 million as compensation for universities losing income by releasing students from accommodation contracts.

Dodds commented that this additional funding would help to remove the barrier of digital poverty to education and help in-person teaching to be delivered in a safe manner.

She also explained that some of this package will be designated to student unions to aid their provision of mental health support.

Dodds stated that she will “continue to do all [she] can to help [students] regain the learning experience they deserve.”

Scottish minister for Further Education, Higher Education and Science, Richard Lochhead, has not recently made any announcements regarding how students will be supported during the pandemic.

Current financial support provided by the University of Edinburgh takes the form of a hardship fund specifically aimed at helping with living costs rather than tuition fees.

One third-year student expressed their fears of this additional government support becoming lost in the system and “not trickling down” to actually benefit students.

On the University website, there is a plea for donors to help them cover living costs and other necessities to students through emergency grants.

At the same time, Principal and Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson’s salary has just been restored to the £340,000 he was receiving before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another student told The Student that she thought a disruption fee was warranted due to “the decreased quality of teaching” experienced this year.

The website also states that “As teaching and student support continues to be provided by the University” there will not be fee refunds for this year.

Image: Diliff via Wikipedia