Students granted bursary extension to complete courses delayed by Covid, ending months of uncertainty

Department of Health and Social Care decision to provide funding follows concern and anger from students waiting months for confirmation on payments to finance placements halted by coronavirus

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Final-year social work students unable to complete their courses because of Covid-19 will be able to get an extension to their bursaries after the government said it would provide funding to enable this.

Last week’s decision from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ends months of uncertainty for students whose placements were halted following the coronavirus lockdown in March, meaning they were unable to complete their courses and qualify.

Following the lockdown, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA), which administers the bursary, had posted on its website that students required to extend their placements would need to have their universities complete a bursary extension form (SWB04), with payments then based on the period of extension.

This was interpreted by students as meaning that extension payments were guaranteed when placements for bursary-receiving students had broken down through no fault of their own.

Concern over continued uncertainty

However, up until last week, the NHSBSA had not been able to action extension payments because it was dependent on funding being agreed by the DHSC, leading to significant concern and anger among student and student leaders.

An NHSBSA spokesperson said: “We’ve received confirmation from the Department of Health and Social Care that final year eligible social work students who require an extension to their social work bursary to complete their course will receive funding support for the time of their extension.

“If a student requires an extension, their university will need to follow the usual process and submit an SWB04 form to request this. Any students who have not yet spoken to their university or are unsure whether an SWB04 form has been submitted, should contact their university.”

‘Extremely difficult time’

Kate Pinchen, who was course representative for the MA at the University of Central Lancashire in the last academic year and has campaigned on the issue, said: “I personally have not been affected, I have finished and am awaiting registration.

“I believe this will bring a great relief to my fellow course colleagues and other students who have been finding this an extremely difficult time. I just hope that payment is now prompt and backdated for students to 1 September 2020.”

It is not clear how many students have been affected. Regulator the Social Work England has said that final-year students have been graduating in expected numbers, broadly, based on the number of applications for registration they have received, despite the impact of the pandemic.

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