Northern Ireland university students to get £500 for Covid disruption

University students in Northern Ireland will be given £500 in recognition of the disruption they have faced due coronavirus pandemic.

The scheme – which will cost a total of £22m – is part of a wider financial support package of nearly £38m for higher education.

It will make a one-off discretionary payment available to students from the UK or EU studying in Northern Ireland.

Those enrolled in a full-time higher education course – including at universities and further education colleges – in the country will be eligible.

Diane Dodds, the economy minister, said nearly 40,000 students in Northern Ireland will receive the £500 Covid Disruption payment, which will be issued at the end of March.

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“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,” Ms Dodds, who has responsibility for higher education said. 

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Universities in Northern Ireland were told to move teaching online as much as possible in October due to the pandemic and to continue only with essential face-to-face teaching.

The £38m support package for higher education also includes more than £8m targeted at tackling student financial hardship and digital poverty, as well as supporting student unions with mental health provisions.

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It also includes £3.1m to compensate universities from lost income from rental pauses and letting students leave accommodation contracts, and £4.1m for the provision of a safe working, learning and research environment.

Ellen Fearon, the president of student organisation NUS-USI, said it was a “very welcome announcement after an extremely difficult year for students.”

“Students have struggled throughout the pandemic facing financial stress, isolation, academic pressures, housing problems, additional caring responsibilities and digital inequality,” she said. “It is imperative that the £500 Covid disruption grant is available to students as soon as possible.”

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Ms Fearon added: “It’s important that students who are not eligible for this grant, including part-time students and international students, are also financially supported.”

Queen’s University Belfast president and vice-chancellor Professor Ian Greer said: “We particularly appreciate and will prioritise the allocation of targeted government funding for those students in most need.”

In early February, England announced £50m more would be made available to universities to support students facing hardship due to the pandemic, on top of the £20m announced in December.

Last month, Wales announced an extra £40m for students facing hardship, and Scotland announced an additional £20m for students struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Additional reporting by Press Association

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