Scottish dental students forced to repeat a year to get bursaries
The move has been welcomed by industry representatives, who say without it the next generation of dentistry graduates would have been left with "eye-watering levels of debt”.
Final-year dental students have not been able to gain enough clinical experience of aerosol generating procedures, because of the high risk of Covid spread, preventing them from graduating this summer.
Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow dental schools have all deferred graduation.
Public health minister Mairi Gougeon said: “This difficult, but necessary decision by Scotland’s dental schools will be extremely disappointing news for dental students across the country. This is not their fault and that is why the Scottish Government is doing all we can to support them and ensure they do not suffer financially.
“Due to the potential risk of spreading Covid from aerosol generating procedures, dental training has had to be restricted and many students have not gained the necessary clinical experience this year, which has resulted in the difficult decision to defer graduation.
"To ensure dental students who have to repeat a year are supported, we are giving each student an extra year’s bursary to the value to of their normal student loan of up to £6,750."
Graduation for students at Dundee and Glasgow Dental Schools will be deferred until summer 2022, with all current year groups repeating the 2020/21 academic year.
Graduation for students in their final year at Aberdeen will be deferred until Christmas 2021 and all other students will repeat the 2020/21 academic year.
The British Dental Association (BDA) issued an open letter to health secretary Jeane Freeman and Deputy First Minister John Swinney earlier this month calling for action to prevent the next generation of dentists being saddled with unmanageable debt.
Scottish dental students can already expect to graduate with debts of over £34,000. An additional year of study without a bursary would have pushed levels to over £40,000.
David McColl, chair of the British Dental Association's Scottish dental practice committee, said: "This is the leadership we’ve needed from the Scottish Government.
“No-one wanted graduations to be deferred, but now the next generation of dentists have real certainty, support, and protection from what would have been eye-watering levels of debt.
“It’s inevitable that Covid will widen oral health inequalities that have long blighted Scotland. We can draw some comfort that ministers have helped secure the pipeline of new talent we’ll need to meet these challenges.”
The Scottish Government has also confirmed it will continue to support trainers and trainees, based in NHS practices across Scotland. The BDA has renewed its call on the Scottish Government to provide additional funding to dental schools to mitigate the financial losses associated with Friday’s announcement.
Students with particular circumstances will continue to be eligible for other sources of bursary support such as the Dental Student Support Grant and SAAS bursaries. Students can also apply for a student loan if they wish.
Health secretary Jeane Freeman said of the graduation postponement decision: “Today's decision is a tough one, there's no denying that, but it's about giving dental students the experience that's been denied to them this year because of the pandemic."
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