A politician is fighting to help a group of local mature students continue their higher education studies without losing their income support.
The group of five was refused income support and has been told to find work as their degree - Psychology with criminology - is not on the island’s ‘Critical Skills’ list.
After successfully completing the access course for Social Sciences, the students applied for the Social Work Degree - offered by Highlands College and Health and Community Services to plug the social worker recruitment crisis - but were unsuccessful.
They therefore transferred to the Psychology/Criminology degree in the hope of gaining a career in the field, but were told they would not receive income support as the degree does not form part of the 'Critical Skills' list.
Pictured: Students on the Jersey Graduate Teacher Training Programme can gain income support.
The list describes specific courses that give students skills deemed “badly needed in Jersey’s job market.” The courses currently listed are the Jersey Graduate Teacher Training Programme, the Social Work degree, the Nursing degree and the Access to Science (Nursing) course, which is required for progression to the Nursing degree.
In order for a course to be listed, the Assistant Minister for Education, Deputy Jeremy Maçon, said it must be an essential qualification, and must increase students’ employability. There must also be a high chance that students will take up employment in a critical role once they successfully complete the course.
If low-income students are enrolled in one of the qualifying courses, they can continue to receive Income Support payments while they study. Low-income students can also receive Income Support while studying part-time non-critical courses, alongside carrying out paid work.
Pictured: The Social Security Department only provides income support to students who are enrolled in the courses listed as 'Critical Skills.'
For full-time courses that do not qualify as critical, students may be able to receive funding from Student Finance, but will stop receiving Income Support payments.
To avoid being in this situation, and being “pressured to find work,” the group of mature students launched a petition, explaining: “We all want to work within the sector that helps the community such as social work, police and mental health however we have now been refused support when other degrees have been accepted giving students on the other degrees a massive advantage, please help us to help Jersey's community.”
Deputy Maçon however defended the decision saying that the Psychology with Criminology degree could not be added to the Critical Skills list as it did not meet particular criteria.
It was determined that, although graduates would be equipped with skills that would be beneficial to a career in mental health, a degree dedicated to mental health would still be required to work in this field.
Pictured: Deputy Geoff Southern has published a proposition to ensure the five students can continue to receive income support.
Deputy Geoff Southern caught wind of the situation and decided to throw his support behind the group of students, blasting the refusal to add the course to the list as “shortsighted.”
He said the situation goes directly against pledges by Minister for Social Security Deputy Judy Martin to reduce income inequality and to help people gain the skills they need to gain employment.
“They have proven they can get off their bottoms and now we are telling them, ‘We have opened one door for you, but we can’t open the rest of the door',” Deputy Southern told Express.
He added that it was “perfectly within the remit” of the Social Security Minister to change the guidelines surrounding income support for mature students, saying: “as society changes, so these guidelines should change.”
Pictured: Deputy Southern said it was "most unfair" to deny the students income support after they have proven "they can get off their bottoms."
“Those people are keen to get on with it, to improve themselves and the position of the island and this opportunity is being closed to them,” Deputy Southern said. “It’s most unfair.”
To help the students, Deputy Southern has published proposals calling for “the requirement that Income Support recipients have to be actively seeking work in respect of mature students on low income studying on the Psychology with Criminology and Childhood Studies Foundation Degree courses at Highlands College” to be removed.
He explained that the petition would not get “anything done” and only lead to a debate, and that he hopes his plan can be adopted in time for the students to start their course this year. The proposition will be debated on 10 September, which Deputy Southern said would be “just in time for the Minister to change her mind.”
Rachel Kelley, one of the five students, thanked Deputy Southern on behalf fo the group "for taking the time to listen to us and take up our plight." "Myself and the other students have come under attack on social media sites, all for trying to better ourselves and in turn get off income support," she said.
Pictured: Rachel Kelley with her 10-year-old daughters.
"The Access course we successfully completed was not an easy ride as some people have suggested and it took us a lot of hard work and dedication, inside college attending lectures and at home studying, researching and writing essays alongside bringing up our children."
Ms Kelley said that while some have expressed concerns over the fact the students would be funded using taxpayers' money, the group wants to better themselves and are all passionate about helping the local community. "The amount of tax payers money spent on looking for hospital sites or paying non locals to work here is extortionate and I would like to appeal to the Jersey public’s conscience on where they would prefer their taxes to go," she added.
Ms Kelley also explained that the option to study the degree part time was removed this year as was the Social Sciences degree to make way for the Social Work degree. Furthermore, student finance only provides £4,000 towards Open University courses whilst the OU Psychology degree is currently over £6000 per year. "Of course we would prefer to have on island support from our peers and the amazing tutors at Highlands University," Ms Kelley said.
Pictured: Helping the students gain a degree-level employment could mean they won't get income support in the future.
Deputy Southern said that the his proposition would not require any extra manpower to implement.
“In the short term, the difference in the level of Income Support between having a mature student in degree-level study, or in full-time work at or around the minimum wage rate, would be of the order of £250 weekly, or £13,000 annually,” he added.
“Over the long term, successful graduation to degree-level employment could also remove the need to claim any Income Support at all.”
“We need to be looking at the long term,” Deputy Southern said. “Not short-term savings.”
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