Dentistry students at Aberdeen University have been left in limbo after being told they will not be eligible for financial support following delays to their graduation.
Final year students at the university’s Aberdeen Dental School face missing out on a bursary of up to £6,750 which was announced by Scottish Government ministers last week.
The support is intended to help dental students forced to extend their studies as a result of the pandemic, having missed out on vital training.
However, it is understood that only students whose studies have been extended by a full 12 months will be eligible for the funding.
There remain questions over the status of English, Welsh, Northern Irish and overseas students studying at Scottish dental schools.
In an open letter to health secretary Jeane Freeman and education secretary John Swinney, the British Dental Association Scotland said the Scottish Government must avoid a “two-tier” support for dental students, and sought urgent clarification on the matter.
David McColl, chairman of BDA Scotland’s 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.
“What every final year student now requires is certainty and support.”
A spokesman for Aberdeen University 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.”
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman last week said the decision to make the students repeat a year was a “tough one”.
Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow Dental Schools all quickly deferred graduations.
They said the students had not been able to gain sufficient clinical experience of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs), which can result in droplets being thrown into the air, creating the potential for Covid-19 to spread.
Prof Phil Taylor, who is dean of the faculty of dental surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, supported the decision.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It is a big blow to people who would have been in their final year and who had been hoping to get into employment very soon.”