Social work students win post-graduate funding reform

The logos of the Social Workers Union (SWU) Campaign Fund and the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) next to a photo of the Scottish Parliament Building

Postgraduate social work students will be able to benefit from reform to the bursaries system in Scotland after a Government announcement.

Speaking at the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) conference on 29 November, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs, Angela Constance MSP confirmed that postgraduate students not eligible to receive bursary support through the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) will be able to apply for the postgraduate funding package administered by the Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS). 

The reforms, which come in from the 2024-25 academic year, will help to alleviate concerns students expressed to MSPs about the postgraduate funding system.

Students had called on the Scottish Government, SAAS, and SSSC to reform funding for postgraduate social work students to ensure objective assessment criteria are used to assess the need for bursaries and that they should be funded adequately. 

David Grimm, a student who helped lead the campaign, commented:

“This reform should mean that the lottery of students having to rely on recommendations and endorsements from their lecturers will no longer be such a huge problem.

“Without reform to student bursaries we risk not having enough social workers in the future to meet the statutory roles they play. This is a welcome first step towards wider reform of the system.

“We now need Ministers to publish the review of the support available for social work students and agree to provide bursaries for all third and fourth year undergraduate social work students who work on the front-line alongside their studies.”

The review was established by the Scottish Minister for Further & Higher Education, Graeme Dey MSP. It came 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.

Students campaigning for change have been backed by the Social Workers Union (SWU) and the Scottish Association of Social Workers (SASW) and argue that third and fourth year undergraduate social work students in Scotland should have equality with other students who work in the public sector in front-line roles during their studies.

SWU has previously calculated that the total for nursing, midwifery, and paramedic bursaries currently on offer 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.

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

“This represents a step towards ensuring that students who wish to become social workers are financially supported to do so. We have been proud to support the students in their campaign so far and will continue to do so until we see meaningful reform of social work bursaries in Scotland.”

Alison Bavidge, National Director of the Scottish Association of Social Work added:

“Well done to David Grimm and Lucy Challoner for leading the campaign. I’m so pleased that the Scottish Government has taken this positive step to help some of our students. SASW will continue to work to improve the financial situation for social work students.”