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Reform of student nurse funding at centre of row

  • 11 Comments

The future of funding for student nurses is at the centre of a row over the sustainability of the education system.

Unions have warned of the “high risks” faced by student nurses and midwives if they were to receive loans rather than grants, after universities called for an “urgent” overhaul of the funding system.

The calls for reform by the Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK have been labelled as “unprecedented”, sparking concerns they represent an attempt to changes the system in the near future.

“I don’t want students held to ransom because the universities want more money”

Gail Adams

Unions said a move to a loans-based system – in which students would accrue debts for both their living costs, and up to around £9,000 per year for tuition fees – risked increasing financial hardship for trainees and deterring people from applying to nursing courses.

Nurses would take longer to pay off their loans than other students, claimed unions, because registrants typically earned less money than graduates from other courses.

They claimed the diversity of applicants would also reduce as those from less wealthy backgrounds – or those who have more financial responsibilities, such as older student nurses with families – would be put off.

Instead of suggesting students take on loans, universities should be calling for improvements to the current grant system, they said.

In a joint statement last week, the Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK said reform of the funding system was needed to address both the current workforce crisis facing the NHS and the financial difficulties being experienced by many students. 

They claimed the current grants-based system was no longer fit for purpose because it tied universities to set numbers of students, resulting in shortages of nurses.

They also said the system was not sustainable for universities and 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 of nursing courses.

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

They noted student nurses typically have longer courses than other non-NHS subjects, meaning their funding has to be spread further.

The government should therefore consider transferring to a loans system, with the possibility of nurses being paid back some money once they have secured employment in the healthcare sector, they said.

Gail Adams, head of nursing at Unison, said: “It is unprecedented for the Council of Deans to issue a statement like this and there must be much more to it than we are currently aware.”

“Financial hardship consistently remains a number one concern for students”

Howard Catton

She claimed there was no evidence a loans system would help solve the nurse workforce crisis, and warned that student application numbers would drop if it were introduced.

She added that university concerns around the amount of government funding they received towards paying for nursing courses should be debated separately from how much money students are given.

“How much universities get paid to provide student nurse training is a conversation between them and Health Education England,” said Ms Adams, adding that students “shouldn’t be condemned into poverty” as a result.

Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton said that while it was recognised there were current pressures on the funding for nurse education, there were a number of “high risks” associated with the loans system approach, in particular around debts.

“The reality of salaries for nurses means the prospect of taking on a loan would mean it could be a significant number of years before student nurses can clear their debts,” he said.

“Financial hardship consistently remains a number one concern for students – both those that have to drop out due to the demands for studying and limitations for taking on paid work and also those that remain on courses,” he added.

Mr Catton said there should instead be a debate about whether universities receive a large enough portion of money for nurse training places from Health Education England in comparison to medical professions.

“It hasn’t been a disaster and didn’t put people off going to university”

Jessica Corner

However, Council of Deans chair Jessica Corner disputed that moving to a loans system would reduce the number and diversity of people applying to nursing courses.

“We’ve got the experience nationally now of tuition fees [being increased to £9,000] and that it hasn’t been a disaster and didn’t put people off going to university,” she told Nursing Times.

“In any new system designed we would want to absolutely look at it to take account of students from diverse backgrounds to make sure it doesn’t put potential nursing applicants off.”

The Department of Health refused to confirm or deny whether it was considering changes to student nurse funding, but Nursing Times understands that the issue has at least been broached informally.

A DH spokeswoman said: “It’s important the [nursing] profession is attractive and rewarding which is why we provide financial support to student nurses including grants, bursaries and reduced rate loans.”

  • 11 Comments

Readers' comments (11)

  • Here we go, they'll sell off the NHS now so private firms can charge for healthcare... way to screw up the country... sure, we need 2 massive Aircraft carriers, super expensive fighter jets, new tanker refuelling planes and of course a brand new set of nuclear submarines.

    We can kill tons of stuff! Yay us! Just pretty bad at you know... the human side of being human...

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  • There are cogent and very obvious reasons why nursing students receive a bursary and pay no tuition fees whereas students of all other subjects pay fees and can apply for grants.

    If the former (existing) system were to replaced by the latter one, the number of applicants to study nursing would drop precipitously - not to say the number that would leave during the course on account of finding it impossible to make ends meet.

    Any politician with a nanogram of common sense can see how ridiculous and damaging such a change would be. Existing nurse shortages would increase enormously within 3 years of such changes being implimented and the health service would implode.

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  • And for those who think removing training out of universities and place it within the hospital for taught & practical - whether at degree level or other - fail to understand one aspect of the tuition at present:
    You can teach 600 students at a time in big lecture halls (Southampton Uni), covering more than one profession at the same time (various branches of nursing + other health care professions who need the same A+P, moving & handling, etc core theory).

    Whatever savings could be made by less swanky university settings would be outweighed by the losses - the clinical teaching rooms could never accommodate all that need to use them without the present use of uni-based rooms. You could never train all healthcare professions away from uni - in addition to the teaching block within hospital, you would have to add the equivalent to that used within uni, which is often not limited to the healthcare faculty, because they lack space.

    We have a problem. When poorer countries are no longer willing to lose their own staff, whom they paid for and are not compensated for, we will be at an impending wall. Add to that a recruitment drive from the 'New World' countries - all of them, not just Aus. - then you will have more than an impending wall.

    You cannot hope to keep trainees if they are subject to mooted changes, as there will be no incentive.

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  • I think we are missing the point here. Rather than looking to change to a system where there has been a growth in students but alongside that growing inequality in the representation of students from lower income backgrounds, shouldn't we be asking why more student nurses are not being commissioned under the present system of funding?

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  • there are loads of people in this country wanting to train as a nurse but cannot afford to apply just make it easer for them and we would not have the shortages in nursing that we have and we would not need to go abroad for nurses simple really

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  • Thousands of qualified Care Assistants in Nursing Homes are ready willing and able to be trained up to "Nurse in Charge" but are excluded from the University route for numerous reason.Think out of the box and come up with a Mentor / in house training course for them ,they will make marvellous Nurses for Nursing Homes and would help to stop the drain on the NHS. No Brainer really .

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  • Is this not just the universities looking to get paid more money for training the student nurses? They shouldn't try to badge this as some improvement for the students themselves.

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  • Im a single mother and second year Nursing student who is currently recieving bursarys. I work in my spare time to make ends meat and i can categorically tell you that if this course was on a loan basis rather than bursary i would not be doing this course. To be paying off student loans on 21,000 a year is an obsurd notion and quite frankly insulting to people undertaking this profession

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  • Government's argument of cutting nursing students' bursary is to save money. They say it's unfair as other students don't bursaries, so why should nursing students - (yeah a circular argument). Well partly nursing students have a full-time timetable at university + full-time clinical placements, for around 10-12 extra weeks per year, more than regular academic students. Academic students could work part time during their term time, and more on vacation, they could more likely to earn more in other professions, eg finance, economics, law, engineering, politics + IT.
    Cannot just link students to train at one hospital, as training must encompass wider areas of nursing, as well as employers could lose a student when they qualify if they choose to work elsewhere. Wonders of mobility + modern working practices, there's no jobs for life (even in prisons, life isn't life ;)

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  • Pretty paradoxal...Government has thousands of plans and one of them being "To raise the number of nurses" by 2019, if I am not mixing the numbers?
    In the end it's just to reduce spendings and what happens for all those great sayings of what NHS should reflect, what the nurses should be like etc? Result: less people going for the course; And surprise: Nursing education-a lifelong debt!
    I have lived in a few countries and have not seen such an absurdic situation regarding to the Healthcare sector. People more talk about money but not how to prevent mistakes in services and deliver a good care. (Just an impression).

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