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Consultation on replacing student nurse bursaries with loans launched


The much anticipated consultation on planned changes to the student funding system for nursing and midwifery in England, which would see bursaries replaced by loans, has been launched today.

The consultation – titled Reforming healthcare education funding: creating a sustainable future workforce – will run until 30 June and was launched on Thursday afternoon.

It follows an announcement in the chancellor’s autumn spending review, predicted by Nursing Times, that the government was planning to reform nurse education funding.

George Osborne said replacing bursaries would remove the current limit on the number of course places that Health Education England could afford to fund, leaving universities free to offer as many as they wanted to.

He claimed the proposed change, which is due to come into effect in August 2017, would create up to 10,000 more nursing, midwifery and allied health professionals training places by the end of the current parliament.

However, the move was criticised by many nurses, especially students currently in training, who argued that it would deter people from choosing nursing as a career, especially mature students and those from poorer backgrounds. As a result, a series of marches and protests have been held in Whitehall.

Announcing the start of the consultation on the move today, the government said that two thirds of people who applied to become a nurse at present were not accepted for training.

It also said moving to a system of loans would offer students typically around 25% or more financial support while they study.

Under the plans, a student who chooses to take a maximum tuition and maintenance loan for three years would graduate with student loan borrowing of between £47,712 and £59,106 depending on the course studied, location and whether or not the student lives in the parental home.

Repayment would be required to start once a graduate was earning £21,000 and constitute 9% of income over that figure. Repayments would stop if their salary dropped below £21,000 a year and the balance written off if they have not paid back their loan after 30 years.

Existing students who started their course before 1 August 2017 but temporarily suspended their studies until after that date would remain on the NHS bursary system for the “full duration of their course and not be transferred onto the student support system part way through”.

Commentators had previously noted that nursing students were more likely to be older than other students with an average age of 29-30. As a result, they might already have a degree in another subject, which under the rules for other students would preclude them from taking a second loan, and potentially a family, bringing with it associated costs.

The government noted that, for nursing and midwifery courses, it would put in place an exemption to enable students with previous degrees in other disciplines and associated loans to “access the standard student support package” for a second time.

However, it stated that it did “not see a case for any additional general support for mature students per se”, because full-time mature student numbers had now “significantly exceeded previous levels” under the loans system was introduced for other subjects.

Department of Health

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Ben Gummer

It acknowledged that “childcare costs could be a significant influence on participation” in courses. But it said it did “not consider that there is a case for generally providing additional financial support beyond what has been provided for in the standard system” for nursing students with dependents.

Meanwhile, students on full-time postgraduate masters’ courses which are one or two years in length would be able to borrow up to £10,000 over the duration of their course. The loan would not be means tested.

Health minister Ben Gummer said: “Since the wider reforms to higher education our universities are offering more places and those from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to access an undergraduate degree.

“Our proposed reforms will extend these benefits to nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, who have so far been excluded from these benefits,” he said.

“It is vital that the changes are implemented in the right way, which is why I would encourage as many people as possible to contribute to the consultation,” he added.

Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, director of nursing at Health Education England said: “We encourage everyone with an interest in delivering these services to patients in the future to make their voices heard in response to this consultation.”

“We are concerned that the changes will act as a deterrent to aspiring students”

Louise Silverton

But Unison’s head of health Christina McAnea described the consultation as “meaningless” and claimed that the government had “already made up its mind” to replace bursaries with loans and fees.

“Replacing the bursary system with loans will put off many potential students, not encourage more people into our caring professions,” she said. “Many will be saddled with huge debts for the rest of their lives. 



Christina McAnea

“The UK already has to import staff from overseas just to keep the NHS going, and nothing in this consultation will change that,” said Ms McAnea.

She added: “The government has published a woefully inadequate equalities impact assessment on the move to student loans. This is a complete reversal from five years ago, when ministers said that a move to a loan-based system would hit women hard, especially those from diverse backgrounds.”

The Royal College of Midwives restated its opposition to any changes that will result in midwives potentially graduating with debts of over £60,000.

Louise Silverton, the RCM’s director for midwifery, said: “Women with children and those who already have a first degree will be particularly hit hard if these proposals go ahead as many of these women already make up a large proportion of our current midwifery student base.

“With potentially catastrophic debts and little prospect of earning to offset these costs, we are concerned that the changes will act as a deterrent to aspiring students and will drastically reduce the number of applicants for pre-registration midwifery programmes,” she added.

Unions representing student nurses and midwives said they would be holding a national lobby of parliament on Wednesday 25 May.

In contrast, organisations representing universities have initially backed the proposed changes.


Jessica Corner

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “Getting the detail right before implementation will be critical if the funding changes are going to work for students, universities and ultimately for health and social care.

“We know that there are particular issues that need to be addressed as part of this consultation, including securing placement funding and capacity and ensuring that student participation levels and course viability are preserved,” she said.

Professor Corner added: “Over the next few months the council will be consulting widely with its members to inform its response to this consultation. We will be urging all course providers to engage in this process to ensure a comprehensive response from across the sector.”

Labour’s shadow health minister, Lord Hunt, described the plans to scrap the bursary as a “huge gamble with the future of the NHS workforce and with patient safety”.

“Ministers need to drop these proposals as soon as possible and stop the staffing crisis in the NHS from getting any worse,” he said.

To accompany the start of the consultation, the Department of Health has also published an “equality analysis” and “impact assessment” (see PDFs attached below).

The government’s plans in summary

  • From 1 August 2017, new students will no longer have their course fees paid by Health Education England nor a bursary provided by the NHS Business Services Authority, but will have access to the standard student support system provided by the Student Loans Company to cover the cost of their tuition fees, and means tested support for living costs
  • A student who chooses to take a maximum tuition and maintenance loan for three years would graduate with student loan borrowing of between £47,712 and £59,106 depending on the course studied, location and whether or not the student lives in the parental home
  • The terms of repayment for the loan will be the same as all other graduates who have taken out a student loan. At present, repayment starts once a graduate is earning £21,000 and the repayments are 9% of income over £21,000
  • At present, newly qualified nurses earning £21,700 will pay back around £5.25 a month. If their salary drops below £21,000 a year, then their repayments stop. If they have not paid back their loan after 30 years the balance is written off
  • Under the current loan rules, potential students who already have a degree in another discipline would not be eligible to access student support for a second time. For nursing and midwifery courses, the government will put in place an exemption to enable these students to access the standard student support package
  • Students on full-time postgraduate masters’ courses which are one or two years in length would be able to apply for a Postgraduate Masters Loan. Students would be able to borrow up to £10,000 over the duration of their course. This loan would not be means tested
  • Existing students who have started their course before 1 August 2017 but temporarily suspend their studies will remain on the NHS Bursary system for the full duration of their course and not be transferred onto the student support system part way through

Source: Department of Health consultation


Readers' comments (21)

  • Why on earth should nurses be different to any other degree student? Grow up.

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  • As usual middle class discrimination against lessening potentially excellent working class nurses. Well done professor and the rest of you, you've now betrayed and discluded a whole host of working class now under class people. Everyday people use services not just middle class academics, management or government. No thats not what they want, they want to disclude a whole host of people so they can deny everyday peoples existence in favour of privatisation and ego mania.

    And I've got new for you RCN writing on your Facebook or here isn't just a few select people its representative of most nurses. RCN you are a waste of space and are not representing anyone except government and management. Nurses need to strike or the greater harm will be in the long run. No correction it has started. I moved union as a matter of protest. Peter Carter was no good and I've met reps who would laugh at his honoury title. This new head of RCN is obviously no good either. Apparently we are all middle class now and if not you don't exist or won't exist if you don't meet snobbery ideals. I'm ready to strike and support students as they should be. Shame on you Osbourne.

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  • A nursing degree is different to other degrees you don't go on placement for 37.5 hours per week.

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  • This is potentially yet another one of those generational nonsense things. We know paying for needed education for public service occupations is idiocy and this government is depending on the X - Y - Z generation as a whole thinking its normal just because they betrayed other students on degree courses and the like. The notion of saying 'grow up' just shows how much knowledge of what should be free and supported has been lost by closed minds. Most of us pay taxes to ensure proper services are in place including Drs and nurse. Its the same with the NHS sell slowly off and many of the younger generations will think its the normal and right thing to do. Its still wrong NHS dentists or any dentist are allowed to charge, and is an insult seeing as we are paying for the right service. 7 April, 2016 5:26 pm please go back and educate yourself before throwing insults to attempt to enrage. And yes student nurses work many hrs on top unlike other students. Imagine working for nothing and having to pay for the privalege on top of academic study and of which many have families. Whether we go private or not the services are going to lose out. Have some heart with your brain.

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  • I agree with the above comment 8 April 11:53 AM.

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  • 10,000 extra nurses!? How will that number of Students be managed and supported on placement with resources already stretched in terms of mentorship.

    Don't think it will happen, and we'll see a dip in applications which will also impact on service.

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  • students would basically be taking out a loan to work, at times full time hours, not to mention unsocial hours. It is very different to most degrees in that you do not get long holidays and weekends to get a part-time job. The quality of placements for students are already poor due to lack of time that the staff have to support them. If universities take on too many, I can't see there being sufficient placements for them.

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  • I agree, I am a student nurse. We have to complete a set amount of hours over the 3 years or we fail the course. Its not like other courses, we have to be at every lecture and every placement. We attend 40hrs a week and have essays to do ay home, presentations to do, exams to study for, anatomy and physiology to study amongst other stuff. As a mature student i also have a family and home to look after as well as trying to do bank work which i rarely have time to do even one day a month. I don't think there is any other course that asks this of their students. Placements are extremely limited. Many of the students certainly would not have applied if the bursary was not available. University staff will be made redundant also if numbers drop! Big your research properly with students already on the course sure the majority will tell you they could not afford to train if the bursary is removed.

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  • I personally don't know any nurses or student nurses coming from wealthy families. People at money usually look for better paid careers where they can help others if that's what they want to do in life. I really can't see many people, no matter how dedicated and caring they are, wanting to either pay £27000 or taking up this kind of loan to pay for a training which at the end, will leave them with just about £1100 to take home each month. the reality is, that most of the prospective nurses will have to take the loan both to cover tuition fees and to cover living expenses, and this will be, as mentioned in the article, something like £50000. I just can't imagine, that everyone will just jump at this opportunity, just because there will be more training places available.

    The reality is, that even these individuals who dream about pursuing a career in nursing, already have doubts resulting from the fact, that it is a highly demanding yet a rather low paid job. But they still do it, mostly because of the values they uphold. Nobody goes into nursing to get rich. Scrapping the bursary will only result in these people not being able to become nurses, simply because they won't be able to to afford it. And those who could afford it, will most probably do something else anyway.

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  • Don't forget, what the prime minister says, " we're all in it together". So what happened to you 11% pay rise this year?
    Had yo invested wisely, you too could have invested it all in an off shore trust'', just as His father did, then, you could have used your profits to pay for your own nursing degree.
    Why should the government spend our tax income on you rather than syphoning it off to 'aide' foreign countries abroad, or simply waste on ptoting them staying in the EU?
    Your unions don't seem to have any 'Umph' any more to fight your 'lost'.
    You'd have less stress filling in a supermarket, and, be more appreciated, probably?

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