Almost 40,000 students studying in Northern Ireland will receive a £500 Covid Disruption Payment, Economy Minister Diane Dodds announced today.
Every student from the UK or EU currently enrolled on a full-time higher education course in Northern Ireland will receive the one-off discretionary payment, which is in recognition of the disruption they have suffered as a result of the pandemic.
The initiative is part of a wider financial support package of £37.7million for higher education agreed by the Executive today. This amount includes the £10.4million announced earlier this week.
The Minister said: “I am acutely aware that students in local higher education institutions have experienced significant disruption since the onset of the pandemic and that this continues to have an impact.
“I am pleased to announce that I have secured £22million from the Executive to fund a one-off discretionary payment of £500 to all students from the UK and EU who are in full time higher education in Northern Ireland, whether that is in a university or further education college setting.”
The Covid Disruption Payments will be issued to students by the end of March.
The support package also includes:
– £8.5million to address student financial hardship, digital poverty and to support student unions with mental health provision;
– £4.1million for the provision of a safe working, learning and research environment; and
– £3.1million to compensate universities for lost income arising from rental pauses and releasing students from accommodation contracts.
Commenting on this funding allocation, the Minister said: “These additional resources will help universities target financial support at those students who are most in need. Many students do not have adequate access to devices or the connectivity they need in order to participate in online learning. Digital poverty must not be a barrier to learning and this additional support will help address that.
“Also included in this package is funding specifically for student unions to help them increase the mental health and wellbeing support they provide to students.
“Furthermore, the institutions will receive funding to help them carry out modifications and invest in PPE and other equipment to ensure they can deliver teaching and learning in a Covid-compliant way.”
The Minister added: “I have listened to the many concerns raised with me by students, their representative bodies, family members, educators and institutions and will continue to do all I can to help them regain the learning experience they deserve.
“Students who are in immediate need of financial support should contact their institutions to discuss their options”
President and Vice-Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, Professor Ian Greer, said: “Queen’s University welcomes this support for students that will bolster the range of interventions that the University has already put in place such as pausing accommodation contracts to address the challenges students face as a result of the pandemic.
“We particularly appreciate and will prioritise the allocation of targeted government funding for those students in most need. Queen’s will use its best endeavours to ensure this reaches students as quickly as possible, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, those experiencing mental health difficulties and those who do not have reliable access to digital technology that facilitates remote learning.”
Professor Paul Bartholomew, Vice-Chancellor, Ulster University, said: “We welcome this funding commitment from the Department, which recognises the significant challenges faced by university students during the pandemic.
“We continue to ensure a safe campus environment for those with essential on-campus learning and our well established digital learning platforms provide a rewarding and interactive experience for students studying online. Our residences remain open to provide a safe and secure space in which students might prefer to reside at this time.
“We understand that student life during a pandemic can be an anxious time and are committed to supporting our students academically and personally. Our Student Wellbeing team is on hand to help, with all services available online, including financial support. We will work closely with the Department to distribute these additional funds to our students as soon as possible.”