Colleges and universities will be able to offer funding to students facing hardship over the summer sooner than planned, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced.

The Scottish Government has brought forward £11.4 million of discretionary funding to support higher education students in financial difficulty.

The funding, aimed at those unable to claim benefits while still studying, was not expected to be released until the start of the new academic year.

Colleges will also be able to offer discretionary funds to bridge the timing gap between bursary payments ending in June and Universal Credit payments starting.

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Speaking at the daily coronavirus briefing, Ms Sturgeon said: “We know that many students rely on income from seasonal or part-time jobs, especially over the summer months, and that the economic impacts of Covid-19 will therefore cause them, particular difficulties.

“That can be especially important for higher education students who, unlike further education students, can’t usually claim benefits over the summer.

“We’ve already provided additional support for students and we’ve also suspended debt recovery action by the students awards agency and today we’re bringing forward more than £11 million of further support this funding.”

Further and higher education minister Richard Lochhead said: “Given the economic impact of Covid-19, many continuing students who rely on seasonal and part-time jobs in the summer could find it difficult to cover their basic housing or cost of living costs.

“No student should face financial hardship as a result – so these new measures will support students until the start of the next academic year when bursary, grant and loan payments will begin again.

“This builds on our £5 million support plan for FE and HE students announced in April.

“The UK Government package announced on May 4 for higher education providers and students was disappointing and fell short of recognising the full scale of the challenge.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who asked at First Minister’s Questions in May for the Scottish Government to provide financial support during the summer, welcomed the announcement but called for Student Award Agency Scotland (SAAS) payments to be extended through the summer.

He said: “The Government has made a good start on expanding support but we need to go much further.

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“SAAS is a familiar and easily accessed support system. Students in need are more likely to approach them than to embark on applications to a separate hardship fund.

“We want this money to get to people who are struggling swiftly and seamlessly. SAAS is the best vehicle to do that.”

NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe said: “Discretionary funding is a welcome solution to short-term student hardship, however, the financial impacts of Covid-19 will be long-term and long lasting, and students need certainty, consistency and guaranteed funding all year round.

“We remain concerned that releasing money earmarked for next year may create problems for the future and call for the Scottish Government to ensure that the further and higher education sectors and student finance are sustainably funded beyond this crisis.”