Urgent clarity has been sought from the Scottish Government after it emerged dentistry students in Aberdeen wouldn’t be eligible for financial support over delayed graduation dates.
A bursary of up to £6,750 will be offered to dental students who have to repeat a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, aimed at mitigating the financial impact on those who have had their graduations deferred.
The decision comes as final year students have not been able to gain sufficient clinical experience of aerosol-generating procedures, as these were restricted due to the risk of transmitting Covid-19.
Those in their final year at Aberdeen University will have their graduation deferred until Christmas, and all other students will repeat the 2020-21 academic year, with students at Dundee and Glasgow dental schools graduation deferred until Summer 2022.
However, concerns have been raised by the British Dental Association after Aberdeen students were told by staff they would not be eligible for the funding, as they have not been deferred by a full year.
An open letter has been issued to cabinet secretary for health and sport Jeane Freeman, as well as deputy first minister and cabinet secretary for education and skills John Swinney, saying it was disturbed by the news over the bursary for Aberdeen, and hoping it was an “administrative error” which would be rectified.
David McColl, chairman of the British Dental Association’s Scottish Dental Practice committee said: “We welcomed this bursary announcement in no uncertain terms. It demonstrated the necessary leadership we expect from all UK governments.
“So, we are deeply disturbed by reports that final year students at Aberdeen have been told they will not qualify for government support, by virtue of the fact their extension will not cover a full 12 months.
“We would hope this is an administrative oversight that will be immediately rectified. If it is not it will signal a two-tier approach that will protect some students from a mountain of debt, but not others.
“Questions remain over the status of English, Welsh, Northern Irish, and overseas students at all Scotland’s dental schools.
“What every final year student now requires is certainty and support.”
Talks are currently underway to address the issue.
An Aberdeen University spokesman said: “Discussions are ongoing regarding financial assistance for our final year dental students but we have reassured them that they will receive support consistent with that given to students at Scotland’s other dental schools.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The bursary support announced at the end of last week was always intended to cover all dental students repeating a full year – this includes those from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and international.
“As regards students in their final year at Aberdeen Dental School, we are currently in discussions to ensure they receive the financial support they need albeit this will, by definition, be from a different scheme. We hope to provide details as soon as possible.”