I wanted to respond regarding Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK recent joint statement which called for an ‘urgent’ review of student nurse funding.
Student finance comes up time and time again on Nursing Times. Given this is the case and academics are speaking up, why are we not being heard? Arguably this debate has been going on as long as nursing training has. Could it be argued that academics have a vested interest in a change to a loan-based system? Grades might improve for universities if we didn’t have to split ourselves in multiple directions.
I’m cautious about introducing loans for students. Students should be consulted throughout; focus groups are needed. What do student nurses need as a minimum to live on? This would be dependent on circumstances. I feel strongly for single parents on the course as well as students with multiple external commitments.
I am struggling in this final six months of my course. I do not have children but I could not do this course without the support of my partner. He works away for a significant part of the year so I support myself when he is not here. The bursary doesn’t cover even half of our outgoings.
I hope I speak on behalf of many students reading when I say that finances affect my grades and the effort I put in to my placements. I am at the point this week where I have forgotten where I was two days ago as well as the names of people I know! This stress affects the quality of performance I am able to give when on placement. I feel I am wishing the last bit of the course away, as if my life is on hold. When I finish I want a holiday, but I can’t afford one. I cannot believe I am more excited by the prospect of paid work, than a break away!
The only reason I’m managing is because I have juggled teaching fitness classes throughout the duration of my course. I now only do the odd class. I cannot justify the time away from my studies as preparation takes far longer than teaching, and along with travel and the cost of my materials and whether a mentor will accept the fact that what I do as a paid hobby actually positively impacts on me, and in turn on my attitude and performace on my course. It has been my coping strategy, my stress relief. However, I need the time to do as well as I can on the current politics assignment I have, viva I am preparing for, literature review I am writing and placement I start next week. I have done supply teaching during the course too because I can earn more money for six hours of that than 13 hours on-shift. Some people have found it a little odd but financially I have had to be savvy with my job choices to maximise the time I have for my studies.
I have completed many co-curricular unpaid activities since I started because I love them, although I have had to reign them in a little now as they have an impact on my wellbeing. At the same time I’m bursting with ideas and initiatives that I would love to take forward but cannot because I am trying to balance getting the best grades possible with having enough money to live on and having an adequate amount of rest and recooperation.
Here is a practical suggestion: rather than introducing new systems how about the government listen to current students and nurses who are in the current system?
I’d prefer more financial support in the final year, perhaps in the bursary, as there is less time to work part-time. Not all student nurses are like others in higher education courses so a blanket loan system without consideration of these factors would not work. I already have two previous student loans so would I be eligible for this one? Also, do I want a third loan to pay off? What about the current student maintenance loan being reduced in the third year when the pressure is at its greatest? There is a petition running regarding this. I urge you to sign it if you haven’t already. It asks for the government to give us a rate that is pro-rata because of the extra weeks in university that other higher education courses don’t have.
There are students who have studied for a degree before like me who also think they can’t get the current maintenance loan (just non means-tested). Clear education from SLC for student nurses on this would be helpful.
In the last week, NHS bursaries have changed their practice placement expenses guidelines. From September 2015, the mileage rate is being decreased. I think actions like this are increasing stress for students and we need to speak up more about the effect it has on wellbeing and our nursing care.
Overall I am unsure a loan system would work and from comments I have read recently, it may put a lot of students off studying to become a nurse in the first place. A minimum National Living Wage whilst on placement would be a compromise I’d listen to, and fixing the current bursary and loan system is the preferable choice rather than simply introducing a brand new system.
Students need to continue to speak up on this matter.
Becky Kidman is Student Nursing Times’ mental health branch editor