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Academics call for 'urgent' overhaul of student nurse funding


Academics have called for an “urgent” overhaul of the funding system for training nurses and midwives to address both the current workforce crisis facing the NHS and the financial difficulties being experienced by many students.  

Student nurses should stop receiving grant funding and instead be provided with loans to pay for their tuition and maintenance fees, with the possibility of having some money repaid once they have secured employment, according to a joint statement issued by the Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK.

The two bodies argued that the current grants-based system was no longer fit for purpose because it tied universities to set numbers of students, resulting in shortages in professions such as nursing.

“We need a more flexible system that will cushion the health service from changes that it cannot anticipate”

Council of Deans and Universities UK

“The resulting staff shortages put the existing workforce under enormous pressure, lead to unsustainable international recruitment and push up agency spending,” said the joint statement.

However, it pointed to the high demand from potential applicants, with nursing being the fifth most popular course in higher education.

“We need a more flexible system that will cushion the health service from changes that it cannot anticipate,” it warned.

At the same time, the bodies said students were losing out from a grants-based system, because the money they received for maintenance costs was not enough.

They noted student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals typically have longer courses than other non-NHS subjects, meaning their money has to be spread further.

In addition, in cases where students received a loan to top up their maintenance grant, this money was reduced in their final year under the false assumption that NHS students completed their degree before the summer along with most other subjects.

Academics said financial hardship for student nurses, midwives and AHPs was now a “key issue”.

They also pointed to the increasing gap – an estimated 8-12% – between the funding provided to universities by the government to cover student tuition fees and the actual cost to provide nursing courses.

“Given the compelling case for change, the government needs to consider urgently whether the current system of NHS-funded grants can be moved to a system of student loans,” said the statement.

“If we want the numbers of health professionals that we know future patients will need, the system must be overhauled”

Jessica Corner

Any new system should also find ways of attracting newly-qualified staff into the NHS and social care to address workforce pressures currently faced by employers, said the academics.

“This might include scope to offer repayment of part of a student’s loan after a given period of service or the award of a retention bonus, helping employers to reduce their spending on agency staff and retain new registrants,” they added.

Professor Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said:  “There are no easy decisions on funding reform but with appropriate safeguards, the outstanding record of nursing, midwifery and AHPs in widening participation to higher education can continue.

“There are risks to change but if we want the numbers of health professionals that we know future patients will need, the system must be overhauled,” she said. 

Dame Jessica Corner

Dame Jessica Corner

A spokeswoman for national workforce planning body Health Education England said its strategy for 2015-16 includes projections to supply an additional 23,000 nurses by 2019.

“This will include newly educated nurses and those who join the NHS through other routes, such as HEE’s Come Back to Nursing campaign. It takes in account nurses who will retire or leave in that time and clearly shows year on year growth in the nursing workforce,” she said.

However, Unison Head of Nursing Gail Adams said: “The current grants-based system isn’t perfect but it does at least enable young people from every background and family income to… study to become nurses, midwives, and other healthcare professionals.

“If grants and the payment of tuition fees disappear and are replaced by loans, we risk burdening nursing and midwifery students with huge debts, just as they are about to start out in the world of work,” she said.

“Even if their employer were to pay off an element of their student loan after several years of employment, the changes could well discourage young people from poorer backgrounds from entering the healthcare professions altogether,” said Ms Adams.

Gail Adams

Gail Adams

She added: “It’s vital that the nursing and midwifery professions continue to reflect the society they care for. The proposed changes risk it becoming an exclusive career option, simply for those whose families can afford it.”

Last week, the issue of financial concerns among student nurses was raised at the Royal College of Nursing’s annual congress in Bournemouth.

Delegates discussed how the government should attract and retain student nurses.


Readers' comments (21)

  • I really hope the same changes were proposed for potential medical students

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  • I foresee the numbers of student nurse will PLUMMET, dramatically, if this was implemented - many people dont wish to enter a career with a noose around their neck - the student loan ! and then the nhs will hold them to random to help them pay "some" of it back? probably stick them in jobs away from their home town to fill in the gaps - many many things wrong with this - 100% if this was the case when i started my student training i would most definately of choosen another career. Get into debt and relaying on the NHS to pay "some"?( and lets guess that wont be much) of it if i took one their placement job isn't a route i would of ever taken. i dont think this will attract the student nurse - it will make many that like the idea of a grant run a MILE

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  • NO NO NO! I already have 18,000 pounds of loan, taking the foundation degree, to be able to get onto the full degree. I dont want to have another three years of tuition fees and maintenance loan on top of that!! I will not be applying for nursing if this happens.

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  • The proposed system is similar to the one that students face in Australia. In my personal opinion it is disastrous. In Australia, students are working excessive hours to live. Academic work suffers and so does their personal lives.When they are on practicum, some are working 80 hours per week as they need to maintain their jobs.
    If the UK government wants to change the system and have a quality workforce for the future, give students a salary/ bursary again. This isn't said thinking misty-eyed that the old days were best, this would be an attempt to improve quality and safety in nursing.

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  • I want to do my nursing degree, having just done a foundation degree, but can only do it through a seconded post as I am the sole bread winner. Why does the government not encourage more people who already work wiithin the system to progress into nursing by encourging Trusts to provide more seconded posts!

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  • Nurse training and funding should not only be about students getting in but also about nurses staying in.
    The old way of student nurses being part of the workforce in a well staffed environment so they can be taught and learn under a mentor while helping with an allocated number of patients and being paid appropriately for their work is the way forward. Time at university is also important but could be shortened for the theory which cannot be done in the work environment.
    Nurse Educators/mentors in the work environment is the way forward to be used for student nurses and trained nurses for upgrade in their training.
    It will be better if the nurse educator is not allocated patients but allocated students and nurses for support and training.
    Supporting student and nurses in the work place will always be good for nursing.

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  • Currently student nurses work for 50% of their course in the clinical areas doing a 37.5 hours in various shifts days and nights. It is about time that the NHS and the Universities looked at paying them at least the minimum wage for this work while in the clinical area. This would help supplement their course costs.

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  • Errr... you don't HAVE to take the loan...

    I sure as heck could do with more... I worked for 2 years doing 60 hour a week shifts to scrape some money together... I ended up with £350 per term loan and £72 a month from the NHS... just about covered my food and living costs... all of the money I had saved has gone on rent.

    Next years looking to be the same however I have managed to secure a second job and have discounted rent.

    Third year... well... don't know If I'll be able to do it. Might have to ask the uni if I can take a break, work again for more years then do the final year (If that's possible)

    Sure could do with being paid while on placement... it's not like we're just stood around being flies on the wall.

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  • Of course the Universities would propose this, more students equals more money for a popular course...but loading debt onto students going into a profession that start on a relatively modest wage where progression is limited, and pay has not increased for years (and will go down further when the govt get their hands onto unsociable pay which they will) is a way of putting people off,immoral and unjustifiable. If anyone was really bothered about the hardship of student nurses they would propose increasing the grant.

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  • pay the students a wage like they used to, it isnt right these students are working on placements unpaid , no doubt university training was brought in so the government cold exploit them

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