The Glasgow Guardian sits down with Glasgow University graduate, Owain Campton, to discuss the campaign he hopes will help thousands of Northern Irish students.
Glasgow University postgraduate Owain Campton this summer wrote an open letter to members of the Northern Irish assembly and Scottish parliament to address the low funding that Scottish and Northern Irish postgraduate students receive. The Glasgow Guardian sat down to discuss his campaign with him.
The Glasgow Guardian: Firstly can you just explain to people who may not have come across your open letter and campaign what it's all about?
Owain Campton: The campaign is looking to increase the amount of postgraduate funding available for Northern Irish (NI) students. Currently, we have access to only 50% of the available funding that the rest of the UK has access to. For example, if you’re from England or Wales you have access to £11,222 to cover tuition and living costs. In Scotland, you have access to £10,000 for tuition and then living costs, whereas in Northern Ireland you can get a loan that is only £5,500 and that can only go towards tuition. Which means you have no available financial support for housing or living costs. This just means that people from NI are immediately at a disadvantage, especially those that are from a lower socioeconomic background or are self-dependent. This looks even worse when you consider the average price of master's courses in the UK. Apparently the average price is £7,946 which means students from NI are having to find around £2,400 just to be able to cover their tuition fees, never mind rent and living expenses. What we would like to see is a raise in the available funding towards tuition loans as well as living and housing loans so that students aren’t being put under this financial pressure.
GG: What made you set up this campaign in the first place, and have your goals changed as it has progressed?
OC: What kind of spurred it on was a constant nag that I had during my time at University seeing the inequality in the amount of available funding for students depending on where you were from in the UK. At the undergraduate level, NI students can have at most £4,800 for their maintenance loan whereas the minimum via SAAS is something like £4,700. I just thought throughout University that this seemed ridiculous and unfair, and made it a lot harder for students from NI to study effectively, as they would have to dedicate studying hours to working during term-time and feel the mental health effects of financial pressure. So, thinking about all this and about how stark the difference is at the postgraduate level I thought that somebody should do something about it. And then I thought, well maybe I can set something off and move something forward at least just a little. My goals have pretty much stayed the same. I wanted to drum up support and try to get university officers on side to put even more pressure on. I would like the NI assembly to pledge some support for students that have fallen on hard times due to Covid, and not being able to work, and a pledge to include a line in next year's budget for postgraduate loans.
GG: What do you think the movement needs to get that final push? You have a lot of really good high profile backers already.
OC: I’ve actually ended up meeting with NUS and Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and they have agreed to set up a task force to lead the charge on this, although I will stay actively involved, they just have the resources and connections to push it further. There are also a number of student unions and politicians that back us whose support will really help us. We just need to keep ramping up that pressure to make sure this issue doesn't get forgotten.
GG: Diane Dodds from the Department of the Economy responded to your letter but you weren't convinced by her response. Why is that?
OC: There are a few reasons. The first letter that she wrote was more of acknowledgement, she says there is a review underway but doesn't go into much detail. I followed that up with a number of questions about said review, and about Covid support. She completely ignored my question about Covid support, which was very disappointing, and said that the review was in very early stages and that she couldn’t show me anything about it. She sent me a link to track the progress of the various ongoing reviews but when I looked through that database I found no mention of postgraduate funding since 2015 when the last loan system came into place. So it does feel like nothing has been done to move it forward yet. Where is this review?
GG: If successful, what will your campaign mean for students at U of G?
OC: Hopefully it will mean more NI students are able to attend university and undertake postgraduate degrees - there is already a strong Northern Irish presence at Glasgow and hopefully that will grow - Glasgow University Irish and Northern Irish Society (GUINIS) have been strong supporters of the campaign. It will make the lives of NI students at UofG so much easier. They will be able to compete with their peers and study at Glasgow on an even playing field. They’ll no longer have to be working 30/40 hour weeks alongside their education. They can focus on their studies to get the grade they are capable of, which will only help them later in life. There’s also a Scottish campaign that is hoping to boost the Scottish loan to come into line with English and Welsh loans, that you can find on the same website as my campaign.
GG: How can we get involved and help out? OC: Please go across to thepostgraduatefundingcampaign.co.uk. On that page, you can find the NI letter and the Scottish letter. If you could sign both of them and then share to all your friends, that would be great! Support from across the UK does undeniable help. We just need as many people backing this up as possible.