The SDLP has vowed to keep the pressure on the Economy Minister to ensure students from here studying in the Republic and Britain receive a £500 Covid hardship payment.
he Department for the Economy announced last week that all full-time university and higher education students from the UK or EU studying in Northern Ireland would receive the payment to assist with fees, rents and living costs.
SDLP universities and colleges spokeswoman Sinead McLaughlin MLA will present a petition signed by over 7,000 students to Economy Minister Diane Dodds on Monday urging her to treat local students studying outside the region the same.
Almost 40,000 students at university or in full-time education are to receive the one-off payment to mitigate against the disruption caused by Covid-19.
The scheme will cost £22m and students, many still paying rent and fees despite courses being run remotely, have been told they can expect payment before the end of March.
Ms McLaughlin said the next step is to make sure all students are treated equally – and that means securing a similar scheme for almost a third of students from here who are set to miss out.
“The SDLP will stand on the floor of the Assembly carrying the voices of more than 7,000 young people and students who signed our petition and stood with us on our fight for fairness,” said Ms McLaughlin.
“After months of campaigning, the Economy Minister brought forward a £22m scheme to support students, adopting an SDLP proposal.
“Under current proposals, however, the minister is excluding almost a third of our student population from financial assistance.
“Northern Ireland students studying in Britain and the South have the same extortionate fees, rent costs and lost income as those studying locally.
“She has also inexplicably excluded those studying full-time in further education – these students face the same challenges as those in higher education and they must also receive this support.
“Our survey of students showed that three out of four are in financial distress, with nearly 80% excluded from financial support and 94% who said the pandemic has impacted their mental health.
“This support must be extended to all and the minister has a long distance to go to ensure fair treatment for all NI students.”
Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said the department is working on making sure the scheme is extended to all students from here.
“To all the students who study in the South of Ireland or in Britain, we have asked the Department of the Economy to make sure they all receive the £500 payment,” she said.
“They are working their way through the detail of that. It’s just a matter of how they will receive the payment. I look forward to being able to give some more good news on that front. They are no different. They pay the same fees so of course they should receive the same payment.”
The department had not responded to a request for comment at the time of going to press.