Student leaders have said they are “dismayed” Scottish college students might still be penalised for missing classes.
The comments from NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe come only weeks after he wrote to principals, urging colleges to reconsider their policies on withholding student support funding for students who do not manage to attend all their classes.
He said that in the student union’s fair attendance survey last year, 45 per cent of respondents said that the pressure to maintain attendance had caused them stress and worry, while three in four had experienced their bursary withdrawn at least once.
“The personal stories that the research revealed were most shocking, with evidence emerging of students who had lost income because they were caring for sick children or terminally ill parents, while another had been absent due to a cancer scare. In many cases, this led to the loss of all household income,” said Mr McCabe in his letter.
“As you will be aware, the [Scottish Funding Council] has re-issued their guidance on attendance, making clear to colleges that they should be prioritising pastoral care and support, and checking for other ways the student may be engaging with their course, before punishing students who face challenges maintaining full attendance.”
Institutions should also consider their approach to students suffering mental ill-health, Mr McCabe wrote. “Access to mental health services and reliable financial support are vital for college students if they are to succeed in their studies and achieve their full potential. We believe actioning the guidance outlined in this letter will be of huge benefit to a great number of students.”
However, Mr McCabe told Tes this week: “Following our letter to college principals highlighting the changes, we are dismayed to learn that some institutions may not yet have updated their fair attendance policies to bring them in line with the new guidance.
“We would appeal to college principals once again to check their attendance policies, bring them into line with the new SFC guidance and update their websites accordingly so their students can access accurate information. As the SFC guidance makes clear, colleges should be prioritising pastoral care and support before punishing students who face challenges maintaining full attendance.”
According to NUS Scotland research, many Scottish colleges still state in their policy documents that they will withhold bursary funding if students fail to attend classes. However, a number have amended their policies and now demand satisfactory attendance, or say they will consider the wider circumstances of why a student missed class. City of Glasgow College has, according to NUS Scotland, suspended all attendance requirements.
A City of Glasgow College spokeswoman said: "As Scotland's largest college, it made absolute sense to support the NUS campaign and SFC's new recommendations. The policy aligns with our widening access agenda as well as ensuring that our students, despite showing commitment to study, are not financially pressured when they need to take time off. We are proud to be leading the way in putting the needs of our students first."
A spokeswoman for North East Scotland College said: "We pay students if their attendance is 100 per cent. We also allow five periods of absence during each teaching block, where the student has confirmed the reason and duration of their absence. so long as the absence is for a reason we would support e.g. not a vacation, but including ill health or travel issues. When these criteria are met we pay the student. We also allow our academic tutors to override any withheld payment where there are exceptional circumstances".
A spokesman for West College Scotland said: “West College Scotland’s policy has been updated to reflect new guidance from the Funding Council. Bursary funding is an allowance requiring satisfactory attendance, conduct and full engagement by the student each week. We have a range of initiatives and policies to help students in respect of each of these matters, including an absence policy."