DISTRAUGHT students at a Scottish university say they will rack up thousands of pounds of debt because their course has been extended for a full year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The dental hygiene students at the University of Dundee claim they are being discriminated against as they have been refused a bursary given to the dental students to see them through the extra year.

It means they will have to take out an extra student loan which only covers around half the costs while the dental students are eligible for a bursary of up to £6750 on top of their student loan.

The oral hygiene students have been left reeling after being told their request for a bursary from the Scottish Government had been denied.

In a letter seen by the Sunday National, the dean of the School of Dentistry told the students the Government had refused the University’s pleas to treat them the same as the dental students.

“This is extremely disappointing and frustrating,” said Professor Philip Preshaw, dean of the School of Dentistry.

He said the Government had given no specific reasons, other than saying that they wanted to treat all BSc students in the same way.

Professor Preshaw added: “I would like to confirm that this issue is being discussed at the highest levels in the University, including with the principal and other senior staff, all of whom share the same concerns that we have. I have also had several conversations with the Chief Dental Officer to repeatedly express our concerns on this matter too.”

The University has now requested meetings with local MSPs about the problem.

The students have not only been told their degree course has been extended for an extra year but this term has also been prolonged into July instead of finishing in May – meaning their chances of finding work over the summer has been greatly reduced.

A spokesperson for the students said that while the dental students found out months ago that their course was being extended and bursaries would be available, they had been told just over a month ago that their three year course would now be four.

“It’s been a nightmare year already as we didn’t know what was happening and now there is no support,” she said. “We do just the same work as the dental students so we are being treated like second class citizens. We’ve been told the Government is classing us the same as other Bachelor of Science students like nurses and midwives but we don’t think we should be as they are eligible for NHS bursaries and we are not. We are also the only BSc students we know of who are having to do a whole extra year so we are already different.

“We will have to take out more student loans which is more debt and it is another year we will not be working. People are being put in the position of having worked for three years for their degree but may be unable to complete it because they don’t have the funding.”

She said rents were between £400 and £500 a month and around the same amounts were needed for food and bills. It means the students will have to shell out up to £10,000 more on top of the debt they have already incurred through student loans.

The students are already feeling the pinch, she said, as their monthly SASS payments had been reduced so they could be stretched out until July.

“The payments have been halved in order to spread them out so we are already being penalised financially before we even start this extra year,” she said.

“We are in with the dental students every day, do the same clinical work and sit the same exams but we not only get a lower starting salary but we are not getting the bursary. We feel we are being penalised financially.”

A SCOTTISH Government spokesperson said: “The pandemic has presented particular challenges to dentistry as the majority of procedures require the use of aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) which carry a substantial risk of transmitting coronavirus. As a result, there has been a significant impact on the clinical training of Oral Health Science (OHS) students, some of whom will undertake a repeat year of study.

“Undergraduate OHS students, including those studying at Dundee University, are entitled to Scottish Government funded financial support distributed via the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS).

“We are also providing an extra £3.17 million to universities and health boards involved in dentistry education to help support their students with placement activity.

“Over £76 million has been provided to support students by the Scottish Government since the start of the pandemic. This is in addition to student support payments of tuition fees, bursaries, grants and loans.”