Review promised into social work student bursaries

Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund

Social work students in Scotland have secured a major step forward in their campaign for bursaries in the final years of their studies.

In a letter to campaigners from the new Minister for Further & Higher Education, Graeme Dey MSP, the Scottish Government has said reviews are taking place on options to improve student financing for those who undertake work placements.

The move comes after a powerful cross-party committee of MSPs agreed to take action to support the need for social work university students to be provided with bursaries during the final years of their courses in Scotland, where they work unpaid on the front-line working with vulnerable people.

The Scottish Parliament Petitions Committee considered the campaign after more than 2,000 people signed the call for bursaries for all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland – as well as reform of post-graduate bursary funding. 

Social work students, backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW), argue that this would ensure equality with other students who work in the public sector in front-line roles during their studies.

Currently, the total for nursing, midwifery and paramedic bursaries is a non-repayable £37,500, but for social work students the basic support available is between £20,400 and £32,400, mostly in the form of a repayable loan and depending on household income.

New and ongoing reviews

The Minister’s reply to students states that the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) has commissioned a review of practice learning finance, which will report in August 2023 and Scottish Government officials are “working with sector partners to explore options for improvements to postgraduate bursaries. There is also work planned covering practice learning and an options appraisal for improving routes into social work.”

The reply goes on to state that “the SSSC are also working with relevant universities and the Social Work Education Partnership (SWEP) to explore additional funding models across social work education more widely, working with social work universities to consider collectively how social work students can be supported through the current pressures faced.”

Additionally, Scottish Government Higher Education officials are undertaking a Review of Postgraduate study. This review is ongoing, with initial outputs announced for the 2023/24 Academic Year in March 2023.

Lucy Challoner, one of the leaders of the student campaign, commented:

“This is a major step forward and we thank the Scottish Government for listening to the strength of feeling on this issue. We look forward to speaking with the Minister when the reviews are complete to ensure we have a fair way forward for social work students.”

John McGowan, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union, commented:

“We understand the financial pressures the Scottish Government is facing, but the students’ campaign is about two basic principles, that people should be fairly compensated for doing front-line work in the public sector and that students on social work courses should be treated like their peers on nursing and paramedic degrees and receive bursaries while on placements.”