Postgraduate pre-registration nursing and midwifery students in England will no longer receive bursaries to cover their tuition fees and living costs, the government has confirmed.
From August 2018, new postgraduate students training as a nurse, midwife or allied health professional will be required to take out loans to pay for their training and day-to-day costs, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.
“At a time when the shortage is so great, another short-sighted announcement cuts off a way of getting more nurses”
Undergraduate healthcare students stopped receiving bursaries from August 2017, but postgraduate trainees have continued to have their costs covered under transitional arrangements this academic year.
The government said its reforms to funding were aimed at creating a “more sustainable model” for universities while increasing the supply of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals to the NHS.
The DHSC said the changes to postgraduate funding, published on Friday, would bring arrangements into line with the reforms for undergraduate students.
“Graduates with existing student debt will not be falling over themselves to take out more”
The switch to maintenance loans would also mean postgraduate students have access to more money for living costs, said the department.
Under the current bursary system, postgraduate nursing students do not pay for tuition fees and they typically receive an annual bursary for living costs of between £5,623 and £8,850, said a DHSC spokeswoman.
In the future, postgraduate students will be able to take out an annual loan of up to £9,250 to cover their fees – although universities can charge different amounts.
In addition, they will be able to secure an annual maintenance loan typically of between £7,769 and £12,298, added the spokeswoman.
Nurses will be required to start paying back their loans at a rate of 9% of their income on earnings over £21,000 – though the threshold is due to increase to £25,000 from this April.
The move has been labelled as “short-sighted” by the head of the Royal College of Nursing, who said the removal of more bursaries was contrary to the health secretary’s ambition to reduce staffing shortages.
“At a time when the shortage is so great, another short-sighted announcement cuts off a way of getting more nurses,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.
“It goes against everything the secretary of state has said on the urgent need to boost numbers in training and fill the vacant registered nurse jobs in the NHS,” she said.
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She noted that fast-track postgraduate nurse training for people with degrees in other subjects meant they could join the NHS in two years. This compares with the three years it takes for an undergraduate student nurse to complete training.
“The government must expand this route, not restrict it,” she said. “Graduates with existing student debt will not be falling over themselves to take out more.
“The government seems hell-bent on reducing the supply of talent into nursing and this move calls into question its commitment to grow the nursing workforce,” added Ms Davies.
According to national figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, around 550 student nurses started postgraduate training on pre-registration courses in England in 2016-17.