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Chamber and committees

Question ref. S5W-35512
Asked by: Bill Kidd, Glasgow Anniesland, Scottish National Party
Date lodged: 24 February 2021

Question

To ask the Scottish Government, following the recently announced publication of the revised Strategic Framework, whether it will provide an update on the steps being taken to support further and higher education and to support students.

Current status: Answered by Richard Lochhead on 24 February 2021


Answer

Our colleges and universities are national assets, providing our students with opportunities for personal development and making a critical contribution to Scotland’s economic success. They are essential in developing the talent, research and innovation to drive our economic recovery.

The revised Strategic Framework, published on 23 February, sets out our initial priorities, and an indicative timeframe, for cautiously easing and reviewing restrictions and restoring greater normality to our lives, just as quickly as it is safe and sustainable to do so.

Education is our priority and although we are operating within these continued restrictions we informed colleges and universities on the 23 February that they are able to bring back more students, up to a limit of 5% in person learning at any one time, whose learning is critical and time-sensitive to them progressing or graduating which cannot be delivered remotely or postponed. Importantly, those students on work placements, which are essential for our future workforce needs, in areas such as health and child care, are able to undertake these placements. We are continually reviewing the data to assess when we can consider easing these restrictions even further.

We realise these continued constraints remain very challenging. However, they are currently necessary to help reduce the impact of Covid. I have said in Parliament several times that I am grateful to both staff, students and our institutions for all their efforts and I would like to again convey my gratitude and appreciation.

I wish to assure all our students who may be concerned about the implications for their education that we are urgently working in partnership with colleges, universities, and staff and student representatives to investigate all practical solutions available to help and support as many of them as possible complete their courses.

We will endeavour to support any student who may not be able to complete their course to the original timescale and we will consider what further financial assistance may be required for both learners and their institutions.

We are also continuing to work with the sectors on the issues students are facing including as part of the Student Hardship Task force, which will assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on student hardship and determine if the mechanisms and measures currently in place are sufficient. We have already committed additional £17 million this year to help alleviate the financial burden and stress facing our students, which alongside the additional £5 million for student hardship announced in December is now being issued to the sector. For Further Education students, the Scottish Government has committed an additional £3 million and this is being supplemented with a further £5 million from SFC budgets.

I am also very aware of the mental health and well-being challenges faced by students at this time. We have already invested £3.645 million to support our existing commitment to introduce more than 80 additional counsellors in colleges and universities and have also provided additional funding of £1.32 million for this financial year to help students deal with the mental health impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic.

I can now announce a further £4.4 million of support specifically for our college students and staff as they deal with and respond to the Covid-19 pandemic. This builds on our Programme for Government investment of £1.9 million to support the sector recruit and access additional counsellors and our investment of £1.1 million to support colleges to deal with impact of Covid-19 and college student associations to provide vital wellbeing services to students.

As plans for the phased return of students develop, I urge all students to keep up to date with current advice by visiting the Student Information Scotland website at https://www.studentinformation.gov.scot/ . Students who are part of the phased return and who will be changing households as a consequence, will now be able to book a test prior to making that change.