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Removal of the student nurse bursary: the story so far

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Bursaries are back in the news this week with the Royal College of Nursing and Royal College of Midwives slamming government plans to scrap the student nurse bursary, in their official response to the proposal.

 

They’re not the only organisations to criticise the plans this week.

A survey commissioned by Unison found overwhelming public support for nurse education continuing to be paid for by the government, with 77% of respondants saying it must carry on paying the tuition fees of student nurses. In addition, 72% of survey respondents also said they wanted the government to continue funding the NHS bursary for nursing, midwifery and other health students.

”Unison found overwhelming public support for nurse education continuing to be paid for by the government”

But you could be forgiven for losing track of this debate, particularly with Brexit dominating headlines and little indication that the government will consider going back on the decision.

As a university student myself I understand how scary it is to see student loan debt accumulate and recognise there will be people reconsidering their ability to pursue nursing. I also understand how daunting it can be to try and comprehend what such political policy actually means, especially when it is something that will affect me personally.

”I understand how scary it is to see student loan debt accumulate”

So as a newbie to journalism, and to UK healthcare, I’ve pulled together the key facts that you need to know about the future of the NHS student bursary.

Where did the proposal first come from?

In November, Chancellor George Osborne announced plans to axe bursaries during a comprehensive spending review igniting swift response and criticism from medical professionals and organisations, student nurses and even from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

And although an opposition motion to the removal of bursaries was voted against in Parliament in May 277 to 158, people continue to petition and lobby lawmakers. Just recently a coalition of over 20 unions, charities and colleges penned a letter to prime minister David Cameron urging the government to stop their reform plans and to consider the financial and workplace ramifications the loss of bursaries will have.


Timing

According to the official proposal, as of 1 August 2017 new nursing, midwifery and health professional students will no longer receive NHS bursaries.

Instead students will be able to apply for more money from student loans. The change only affects new students registering for courses after the August 2017 deadline, so students who are already studying and receiving a NHS bursary will not be directly affected.

”Instead students will be able to apply for more money from student loans”

Existing students who began before August 2017 and temporarily suspended studies will also continue to receive the student bursary.

However, students who accept a place before August 2017 but defer their start until after the change is implemented will not be eligible to receive a bursary.


Money matters

Under the current NHS bursary system, students are given a non-means tested grant of £1,000 per year in addition to a means tested annual bursary of up to £8,750. Healthcare students also have the costs of their tuition paid directly to their higher education institution by Health Education England (HEE).

Under the new reform plan, students will no longer have their course fees paid by HEE, nor will they receive a bursary but will instead access financial aid through the standard student support system with the Student Loans Company.

”Students will no longer have their course fees paid by HEE, nor will they receive a bursary”

As a result, the cost for healthcare students to study at university is projected to increase by 71% with average cost for a three-year healthcare degree of £21,000 to increase to around £36,000, leading students to potentially acquire 47,000 to £50,000 of debt by the time they qualify.

 

The debate

Proponents of the bursary reform legislation claim it will help ease the staffing crisis. They predict it will provide up to 10,000 more training places by 2020 because NHS trusts won’t be restricted to offering only a limited number of places. Currently the number of places is limited to how many HEE will pay for.

”Currently the number of places is limited to how many HEE will pay for”

Other claims include that the move to loans will give healthcare students access to 25% more money while they are studying, as the limit of how much they can borrow will increase.

Critics of the plan feel ministers haven’t consulted enough with healthcare experts and industries about the potential risks.

Many argue that the cuts are a gamble with workforce numbers, risking a deterioration in the quality of patient care and the future of the health service.

”Many argue that the cuts are a gamble with workforce numbers”

In response to the claim of more training places, advisors point to reasons other than financial for the current limit on places including a lack of mentors to teach this potential increase in student numbers.

Many healthcare officials warn that cutting bursaries would deter a number of nursing students from applying, particularly students with financial responsibilities and dependents, increasing the current workforce shortage and reducing the diversity of NHS staff.

 

What it means for you

A survey of nurses and student nurses by the RCN found that two thirds of the 17,000 respondents said they wouldn’t have studied nursing if they hadn’t had access to bursary funding. They claimed without the financial support of the bursary they wouldn’t have been able to enter the profession.

“Many claim without the financial support of the bursary they wouldn’t have been able to enter the profession”

Now knowing the facts, the next step for you is to determine how these reforms might affect you; as a student nurse (or potential student nurse), a member of the healthcare system, or as a patient or recipient of health care services.

Do you have the means to pursue a nursing degree under the reformed system or is it not feasible without the bursary?

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