The government is looking at restricting distribution of the Education Support Grant (ESG) according to those who receive a social work bursary rather than the total number of students, but has denied it is reducing the budget.
The number of students who receive a social work bursary was capped this year and undergraduate students are now only able to apply for financial support in their second and final years.
There have been ongoing fears the government wanted to reduce the budget for the ESG, but it has stayed at £28million for the last few years to help provide placements for social work students.
However, care minister Norman Lamb says the grant has, over those years, been running increasingly over budget, with the current annual overspend at £3million.
He launched a consultation today asking for views on how the grant could stay within budget, as well as increase the quality of placements.
The ESG was introduced in 2003 to help with the cost of organising and delivering placements, but Lamb says there has always been a lack of clarity and understanding over what would be supported with the grant.
“This has led to an uncapped system where the money is distributed solely according to the number of students and placement days required,” he said. “This is no longer a sustainable approach.”
Some of the options put forward in the proposal include giving universities and colleges more flexibility on how the grant is spent so they can reward providers of high quality placements or work with others to improve placements.
Other options include distributing the fund according to the previous year’s number of students, the next year’s number of students or how many students get a social work bursary.
“The consultation is not about reducing the budget; it is about stopping the overspend. The responses to the consultation will be analysed carefully before any recommendations are made and there will be further consultation on detailed proposals before changes are made,” Lamb said.
Any changes would be implemented in the 2014 academic year. The consultation will run until 15 November.