Fees confusion leaves Social Work students in difficulty

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A confusion of communication within the Department of Applied Social
Sciences’ MA in Social Work course has resulted in a number of
students unexpectedly having to pay tuition fees.

Students studying for an MA in Social Work receive an NHS bursary to
cover a proportion of their tuition fees. Historically, the university
has covered the shortfall in the form of a grant, but this has not
been the case this year.

Dr. Paul Iganski, head of the Department of Applied Social Science,
explained the reasons for this: “In the past, the NHS bursary mostly
covered the tuition fee. This year, given the rise in the university
fee, and the continuation of the NHS bursary at a level lower than the
fee, there is a larger difference.”

A small number of students on the course have claimed that they were
informally told by a representative of the course, at an open day
before their enrolment, that the University would cover their fees
for them.

In Week One, students received an invoice from the University asking
for the full amount owed (£1650 per year after the NHS bursary),
resulting in a number of them voicing their grievances through Lisa
Cox, their course representative.

A letter, sent in February to all applicants before any official
enrolment, stated: “This offer of admission carries no implication
that Lancaster University will provide financial assistance. If you
are awarded a scholarship/bursary this will be communicated
separately.”

However, students have explained their continued confusion in light of
the information given to them. Some showed the admission letter to
past graduates of the course, who confirmed that it is standard
practise for the University to send this, and that they would still
cover the shortfall. One student said: “… the University followed
exactly the same procedures and issues the same payment letter a
previous years. At no stage did they point out that previous
information given to us had changed, nor did they point this out in
their correspondence.”

Professor Corinne May-Chahal, who teaches on the course, confirmed to
SCAN that no official literature had been given to students claiming
that the financial shortfall would be covered by the University: “It
was not even certain at that stage [the time students received their
admission letter] that a bursary would be available. The whole matter
of social work bursaries was under consultation with the sector and
not resolved until late in the year.”

Professor May-Chahal also explained to SCAN that new students
conversing with course graduates may be the reason for the new
cohort’s expectation that the University would cover their fees:
“[Students] may well have discussed the course with colleagues at
their workplace who would have told them that, in previous years, the
University made up the difference between the fee level and the
bursary allowance for fees.

She added, “I understand how some may have reached the conclusion that
they would not have to pay any top-up and I’m sorry they are now in a
difficult position. The majority of students on the course did expect
to make up the shortfall so there are clearly different expectations
held within the student group.”

Regardless of how the confusion came about, it is apparent that a
number of students on the course have been left in serious financial
difficulty, as they budgeted with the assumption that they would not
have to pay tuition fees. The nature of work placements on the course
means that students can only work paid jobs for a small number of
hours per week. Some also have child dependants.

While a flexible payment scheme has been discussed and agreed to by
students, any student in financial difficulty would be well advised to
seek help from the Access to Learning Fund, which is advertised and
explained on the University’s website.

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