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Government returns to drawing board over student bursary reform


Student nurses are to be consulted by unions over fresh government proposals to change the NHS bursary.

Unions, including Unison and the Royal College of Nursing, announced today they will be launching a joint consultation on fresh options from the government on proposed changes to the bursary.

The Department of Health last week told unions of five new options for bursary reform, adding a further twist to the long-running debate over their future. A consultation on the issue was held by the previous government in 2009, which set out different proposals, but no change has ever been introduced (see box).

Nursing Times understands that three of the new options, including one of maintaining the current system, are viewed as “untenable” by union representatives – leaving only two as worthy for taking forward for debate. 

The unions said they were disappointed by the government’s return to the drawing board. They also claim the DH has no intention of holding its own formal consultation on the new options, and therefore have taken matters into their own hands. The results will be submitted to ministers.

Speaking on behalf of the affected health unions, Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: “Following four years of negotiation, discussion and consultation, we are deeply frustrated at this unexpected turn of events.

“Instead of an announcement on the bursary we are presented with revised options. We have waited since 2009 for an announcement which we expected would improve the financial situation of healthcare students.”

“Despite the need for a decision, it is important that our members are consulted on these revised options as they differ from the ones originally put to students.

“In addition, in the past two years the financial landscape has changed significantly. Students are now graduating with ever increasing amounts of debt. This will only become worse given the change to student loans which come into effect next year.

“There has already been extensive discussion and consultation on this matter. We want to be assured that following our consultation, there will be an urgent announcement about the final deal. The Treasury must make sure a decision is taken speedily.”

The student consultation – expected to begin next month – will be hosted on the National Union of Students website.

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Box : 2009 options for changes to the bursary
Retain the current scheme
Provide a means-tested bursary and a non-means-tested loan for all students
Provide a non-means-tested bursary for all students
Move NHS-funded students to the same support arrangements as all other students in higher education
Employ all students whilst they are studying

Readers' comments (7)


    I believe that student nurses should be paid a living wage.
    This will stop them having to get part time jobs to subsidise their pitiful income . How can we expect them to pass exams work on the wards study and be professional in every way .Give nurses what they deserve . and stop this silly bursary.

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  • I agree with Sandra, a basic salary would be a much better alternative to a below the breadline bursary. I know a number of people who would have made excellent Nurses who have left (or will not start) their training simply because they could not afford to live on it!

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  • Sadly all students nowadays survive, or try to, on a bursary. I began my training in 1973, with a reasonable wage, however, lower that what I was earning at the Pru. University affiliation brought about the bursary, I don't suppose we can have it all?

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  • Anonymous | 4-Apr-2011 0:17 am, its all academic anyway, since the bursary has almost been done away with since the almost universal switch over to degree courses. I agree with the degrees, but think students should be on a living wage to do the course.

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  • You cannot protect the supernumery status if you are calling for a wage. This status gives you a protected learning environment, but nevertheless allows you to be involved in care. This is now an all gradute profession, please give it the academic status by giving it a bursary and not a wage.

    By the way I am 3rd year Student and glad that the terms and conditions were not set out by my placement as an employer.

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  • I take your point Ruth, I disagree a little (the Police for example retain their 'training' status whilst drawing a salary, which then gets increased upon completing their training, slightly different I know, but the principle is the same). But lets say I agree with you and we simply call the payment a bursary rather than a wage, I still think students can be supenumary and not change anything about the current system, apart from the fact the 'bursary/wage/salary' should be increased to say £12,000 a year. Wouldn't that be much better? Of course this won't happen, because the government won't spend a penny on us, despite us being an essential workforce.

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  • As a student nurse currently in my second year of training I have found money really stressful. As we are eligible for a bursary this means our loans are cut despite the fact bursary is means tested and therefore some students get nothing. This is ridiculous, just because some parents earn what is considered to be enough to pay for their child's education doesn't mean they will! I personally think a salary would be a great idea and would have really appreciated it through my studies.

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