Funding reforms that will see students in England take out loans for nursing degrees from autumn 2017 will not necessarily lead to an increase in trainees, a university dean has warned.
In a statement, Buckinghamshire New University’s dean of health laid out her concerns over the “lack of clarity” around plans to mitigate risks from the funding changes.
“The removal of the cap on student nursing places… does not necessarily mean all universities will increase the number of student recruits”
She noted that the government expected the changes would mean an additional 10,000 students could train by 2020, but she said the number of people universities would be able to accept was in fact dependant on both the availability of placements and the amount of money paid to organisations providing them.
Sue West, dean of the faculty of society and health at Bucks New, said there were still uncertainties about how the money for placements – which is currently allocated by workforce planning body Health Education England – would be managed in the future.
“The removal of the cap on student nursing places… does not necessarily mean all universities will increase the number of student recruits,” she said in a statement.
“The number will in reality be governed by the availability of clinical placements and the non-medical tariff to support these placements. There are still questions around how the tariff money will be managed and HEE are planning geographical workshops to inform the outcome due to be reported in the autumn,” she said.
Universities ‘may not boost training places’ under loans
In addition, she said that while the reforms could mean drop-out rates reduced, students would now have higher expectations of their time spent in university and also of the quality of placements.
She called on placement providers to “focus on quality enhancement of practice learning placements for students” and for universities to be “flexible and agile” in responding to the reforms.
Meanwhile, she noted the older age of nursing students – estimated to be an average 28 years old – and their likelihood of having children meant they could be deterred by the debts from student loans.
She said “universities have an important role to play to ensure that our prospective students understand the funding process, what the loan means to them and what support funding is available”.
“The benefits of a career in healthcare, even if now self-funded, also need to be highlighted,” she said.
Ms West also warned that recruitment to pre-registration postgraduate courses could drop beyond 2018.
“The NHS is on the brink of a period of change and with this comes uncertainty”
The government confirmed in July that these students – who under the loans system would not be eligible for a full student loan – would continue to receive bursaries for the 2017-2018 academic year until a longer term solution was finalised.
“Such programmes are highly valued by employers and I believe that an exception should be made to enable these courses to fall under the student loans system,” said Ms West.
“The NHS is on the brink of a period of change and with this comes uncertainty. For my part, I am determined to ensure that we continue to provide a first-class experience to our nursing students of today and tomorrow,” she added.
“These students are the future of our nursing workforce and we must all do everything we can to support their learning journey,” she said.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said that under the current bursary system around two thirds of people who apply to nursing courses are not offered a place.
“We are committed to increasing the number of training places for home-grown nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, with those in training getting around 25% more financial support whilst they study,” she said.
“We’ve listened to feedback from the consultation and as a result will provide extra funding to help cover additional expenses like travel and more support for students with children. We will work with the Royal College of Nursing, hospitals and other partners in taking this forward,” she added.