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Cuts could ‘devastate’ learning at universities

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Cuts to nurse education budgets are stretching academic institutions to the limit and will have a devastating impact if they go unchecked, a snapshot survey has suggested.

The University and College Union (UCU) survey found that over one-third of respondents had witnessed job cuts among health educators at universities including Bradford, Plymouth and Surrey.

Academics said posts were being frozen after colleagues took retirement. Two-thirds also said their university had been forced to reduce student intake because of education funding cuts made by strategic health authorities.

Of the 34 survey respondents – from 19 institutions – 91% said their workload had increased in the past 12 months, 47% said contact time with students was down and 81% said stress levels were up.

‘Experiencing a redundancy process has been a dehumanising and depressing experience for me and my colleagues,’ said one respondent. ‘To be honest, it has made me ill. My whole relationship with work has now changed.’

UCU warned that failure to protect money given to SHAs to pay for nurse education would have a devastating impact on the ability of the UK’s universities to train the next generation of nurses.

During the two financial years between 2005 and 2007, SHAs diverted almost £500m from education budgets. More underspend has been predicted for the current financial year (p3).

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: ‘It is vital that funding for health training is protected and the time has come to consider whether the Department of Health is able to do this. We can’t allow short-term political expediency to create a future crisis in the NHS.’

A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents university executives, said institutions could not maintain quality of education if funding uncertainties remain.

‘We will be looking to Lord Darzi’s review to put in place structures that will enable higher education and the health service to collaborate on a longer term basis and address education and workforce needs systematically,’ the spokesperson said.

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