A “significant expansion” in nurse training places is being planned at some universities next year to coincide with the switch to a loans system for healthcare students in England, according to the national NHS workforce planning body.
Despite widespread opposition to the move, from autumn 2017, pre-registration nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students will no longer receive a bursary for living costs or have their tuition fees paid for by the government.
““Those [conversations] have been productive and have clearly pushed out a significant difference in opinion”
Students will instead take out loans to pay for their training and day-to-day expenses, which will amount to at least £47,000 of debts for a three-year course according to government estimates.
Arguing in favour of its policy, the government has said its education funding reforms would allow universities to provide an additional 10,000 student nurse, midwife and AHP training places by 2020.
In contrast, unions and other opponents of the move have suggested that it will make nursing a less attractive career option for potential students.
But at a Health Education England board meeting on Tuesday, the body’s chief executive and chair both said they had been told by some universities that plans were afoot to recruit more students to their healthcare courses next year.
HEE chair Sir Keith Pearson said a couple of universities expected to take on “extremely high” numbers of students in the 2017-18 academic year.
“To have a year of stability, we will have a rollover of placement funding”
The body’s chief executive, Professor Ian Cumming, echoed his comments, stating that he had also been told by some universities that certain course specialties were planning a “very significant expansion in numbers”.
He later told Nursing Times that such plans included courses for children’s nursing and adult nursing. However, he was unable to say which universities were planning an expansion and by how much.
Professor Cumming told the board the universities had not written to HEE to formally confirm the details of their planned expansion in training places, noting that they were now competing with each other.
He said HEE expected to receive more information about changes to cohort sizes and potentially new courses across the country by January.
HEE will continue to fund placements for students from 2017 onwards, but earlier in the meeting Professor Cumming reiterated that the body would not be increasing its budget to do so.
He said HEE had been running a consultation about how to allocate the money in the future, to ensure potential new courses could be supported.
“Those [conversations] have been productive and have clearly pushed out a significant difference in opinion in terms of how we should best be using this resource – whether or not the resource should be given to higher education institutions, whether or not the resource should be given to the NHS and how do we make sure we don’t discriminate against new market entrants who may wish to start offering nursing and AHP degrees in the future,” he said.
However, during the first year of the reforms in 2017-18, money will be allocated to the same placement providers that are currently funded.
“What we’ve said for next year is, to have a year of stability, we will have a rollover of placement funding,” said Professor Cumming.
”So, unless there is a material change in somebody stopping offering a course, for example, then the money in 2017-18 will go to the same [placement providers] as in 2016-17,” he told the board.