Students at the Irish Baptist College in Moira have been told they will not receive a special £500 payment aimed at helping students cope with the disruption to their studies caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
In a heartfelt plea to Economy Minister Diane Dodds, 24 Irish Baptist College students said they should not be shut out of recently-announced student support package.
The Irish Baptist College, which specialises in theological education and training, was established in Dublin in 1892, and moved to Northern Ireland in 1964.
Student Chair of the College, David Cameron from Ballymena, said the students were "deeply grieved" that the NI Government "had failed them, in these very difficult and challenging circumstances".
"As students studying in Northern Ireland we have experienced the same issues that other students in Queen's University and the University of Ulster have faced, including the impact on the student experience," they wrote.
"We do not believe that NI students should be excluded on the basis that they are affiliated to another university," they wrote.
Their case was taken up by North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, who contacted Economy Minister Diane Dodds, a party colleague.
But in an official reply to the MP, the Department for the Economy (which is responsible for the grant scheme) said it did not have the legal power to include the college in the £500 grant scheme.
"As the payment is for Northern Ireland publicly funded Higher Education Institutions, this excludes the Irish Baptist College and other alternative providers which are not in receipt of recurrent grant funding from the department.
"The department simply does not have the legal basis to make payments to such institutions," the department said.
Last night the MP said he was "dismayed" by the department's blunt rejection of the 24 students' plea, and called for a rethink.
"These students face the same issues, hardships and problems as any other students," he told the Belfast Telegraph, "and I think it merits a review by the department as to how they give out that money.
"This is not going to break the bank. A stroke of a pen in the department could resolve this.
"I take the view that this is a deserving case, and should received urgent and immediate reconsideration." Mr Paisley said.