The average nursing student can expect to finish their course with debts of between £6,500 and £7,000, according to results from the annual Unison student survey.
The research suggested nursing degree students could expect to graduate with a total debt of £6,552 compared with £6,912 for those on diploma courses.
Based on the assumption that newly qualified nurses set aside £100 each month to pay their debts, it will take those with either form of qualification around six years to clear the expenses incurred while training.
Seventy per cent of respondents rated their course “good” or “very good” but half said they had considered leaving it due to financial difficulties - a similar figure to Unison and RCN surveys in autumn 2008.
In its submission to the Department of Health’s consultation on reviewing student bursaries, Unison has called for students to be paid a salary equal to the minimum wage. The consultation, which ran between September and December last year, suggested five options for supporting students through their courses (news, 15 September, p2).
The survey report said: “There are strong arguments for the option that puts students on a salary equal to the minimum wage. However whatever is the preferred option this survey shows it is vital that any new funding arrangements do not increase the levels of personal debt students finish their courses with.
“It is also important that nursing attracts people from a more socially diverse background. Our survey shows that degree students are more likely to be younger and white, and less likely to have financial dependants.
“It is important that the move to an all degree nursing profession does not lead to students accumulating larger debts, and to nursing becoming a more socially exclusive profession,” the report said.