Student social workers discuss bursaries with Minister Jamie Hepburn

A screenshot of a Microsoft Teams meeting on 18 January 2023 with Minister Jamie Hepburn, social work students David Grimm & Lucy Challoner, SWU General Secretary John McGowan, and SASW National Director Alison Bavidge.

Social work students, with support from SWU and SASW, explained the challenges they face and the need for better bursary support in Scotland.

Social work students David Grimm and Lucy Challoner met with Minister for Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training Jamie Hepburn last week to discuss their campaign for fairer social work student bursaries in Scotland. SWU General Secretary John McGowan and SASW National Director Alison Bavidge attended the meeting in support of the student-led campaign and advisors from the Chief Social Work Advisor’s office were in attendance as well.

During the meeting Lucy and David related the challenges they have face on placement, including staff shortages affecting students. They explained that final year social work students in Scotland complete a 120-day placement in a variety of settings which is currently unsupported. On top of completing this full-time placement which includes caseloads, students must work additional hours outside their placement to complete weekly reflective logs and retain employment to meet living costs.

John McGowan highlighted the additional costs that students accrue during placement such as travel costs between home visits, offices, and other placement related travel. He said that students have contacted SWU seeking advice as they have had to resort to sleeping on friends’ and family members’ sofas as cost-of-living rises.

Alison Bavidge stated that students are doing real work on placement, holding individual caseloads, and providing support to the social work workforce. SASW members have also raised questions around additional support for social work students on placement. The requirement for reflective diaries is adding additional pressure to students and members of SASW have been in touch regarding failed placements due to difficulties producing reflective logs.

The social work student campaign is asking for bursaries for all undergraduate social work students on full-time placements in Scotland, funded at parity to the bursaries for nurses and paramedics. The campaign is also seeking to reform the postgraduate student bursary funding nomination system so that the application process is based on objective assessment criteria. Social work needs to be a more attractive and accessible career to address the recruitment and retention challenges that the profession is facing.

Minister Hepburn listened carefully to the students’ concerns and to the information provided by SWU and SASW. He acknowledged the challenges that students are facing and seemed keen to explore the next stages of this issue after it has been to the Petitions Committee, so stay tuned for our next campaign update.

SWU members who would like to run their own campaign are encouraged to submit their ideas for funding.

The SWU Campaign Fund supports our activist members by providing them with access to professional support for issues and causes they’re passionate about, and is managed by Campaign Collective. Any SWU member who would like to run their own campaign is encouraged to submit ideas for funding by filling out the SWU Campaign Fund Application Form and returning it via email.