Northern Irish students are to get a one off £500 payment from the Stormont Executive due to the financial disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Part of a wider £37.7m support package, the payment will be made to almost 40,000 students studying in universities and further education colleges across Northern Ireland – including for individuals from the EU and Britain.
Due to social distancing measures, a large majority of students have been taking their courses online. This meant many returned home and paused or cancelled university accommodation contracts.
In addition to the financial support being offered to students, the Stormont Executive will also compensate universities for a loss of income from rental contract changes. Funds have also been set aside to address digital poverty; a pre-existing issue only exacerbated by the coronavirus situation.
With retail and hospitality closed for much of the past year, students have lost or been unable to find part-time jobs and some turned to food banks because of their struggles.
Ellen Fearon, president of NUS-USI, said the £500 payment was a welcome announcement after a difficult year for students that included not only financial hardship but also isolation, academic pressures, and digital inequality.
Mrs Fearon also stressed the importance of introducing financial assistance to both part-time and international students who are ineligible for the one-off payment.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has called for the payments to be extended to those from NI who are studying in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.
Responding to the announcement, Queen’s University President and Vice-Chancellor Prof Ian Greer said it will “bolster the range of interventions” already made by the university.
Meanwhile, the Vice-Chancellor of Ulster University said the institution “will work closely with the department to distribute these additional funds to our students as soon as possible”.
The Department for Economy aims to have all payments completed by the end of March.
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