Those taking nursing degrees at six universities will receive a £6,500 non-means tested bursary. It will give degree students the same level of financial support as those on a diploma and is part of a pilot scheme East of England strategic health authority plans to introduce in September.
The SHA wants the £5.3m initiative to increase its regional uptake in degree-based nursing programmes from 11% to 25%.
Bursaries will go to existing students and new students for the next two years. However, the offer only extends to those given a place before the target of 25% is reached, because the SHA says it cannot afford to currently fund more places.
Funding for the initiative will be reviewed after two years with a view to extending it. Students at universities in East Anglia and Essex will all come under the planned pilot.
Kathy Branson, East of England head of education and development, said the plan had been drawn up because attrition rates were higher on degree programmes.
Ms Branson denied the pilot was an attempt to pre-empt dealing with a move toward an all-graduate profession, which could be recommended by the NMC review of pre-registration education, due to report later this month.
The likelihood of nursing becoming a degree-only profession has increased over recent months, with public support for the idea from ministers. At RCN Congress in April, health secretary Alan Johnson said it was an idea being considered in the NHS Next Stage Review. ‘There is a strong case for this,’ he said (NT News, 6 May, p4).
Carol Smith, associate dean head of pre-registration nursing at University Campus Suffolk, which is in talks with the SHA about the pilot, added: ‘Nurses are taking on more and to do that, and be credible with other professions, you need to be a graduate.’