NUS Scotland says financial penalties imposed on further education students mean they can lose their £95 weekly bursary payment administered by colleges.
Courses leading to HNCs and HNDs attract students from a range of backgrounds and age groups, including people with children.
Jodie Waite, the union’s vice-president education, pictured, is calling for the Scottish Government to implement a national review of attendance rules she calls “unfair” and “inconsistent”.
Waite says students may need time off for reasons including exhaustion due to shift work, a family crisis or children being ill.
She says the interpretation of guidance from the Scottish Funding Council on the number of absence days allowed varies widely. West College Scotland allows up to five days’ absence over a 12-week period, Fife College allows five half-days over the same time-scale, while Dundee and Angus guidance suggests seven days per 12-week semester.
Waite and NUS Scotland are campaigning to get colleges to look at the impact their policies are having on students’ well-being.
The call comes as Audit Scotland figures released this month showed student numbers in Scotland’s colleges have fallen to their lowest in almost a decade.
The spending watchdog found there were 220,680 students in 2015-16. Opposition parties and unions say the sector is underfunded. The Scottish Government disputed some of the figures used.
The “100 per cent” attendance criteria was instigated in 2014 by the student support review group convened by the SFC.
The rationale was to bring bursary criteria into line with students receiving educational maintenance allowances – paid to those aged 16 to 19 in school and some colleges, whose parents are on low incomes. It was felt it would “help prepare students for the workplace”.
Waite said: “Further education provides life changing opportunities for people, often offering a second chance at education to those who’d previously missed out, and forming a gateway into new careers or educational opportunities.
She said: “Given that these changes to attendance regulations can result in bursary payments being withheld, it’s vital to review the rules to ensure no student is being unfairly disadvantaged.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Under Scottish Funding Council policy, students are expected to have full attendance, but it allows for authorised and self-certificated absences in a wide range of circumstances.”