Education funding for nurses in need of fundamental reform, say universities

The Council of Deans of Health (CoDH) and Universities UK are jointly calling on the government to look at whether the current grants-based system can be shifted to student loans.

Universities are calling for the government to radically reform funding for nursing students to provide them with loans rather than bursaries.   

In a joint statement, the Council of Deans of Health (CoDH) and Universities UK have called on the government to overhaul the way nursing, midwifery and allied health professions (AHPs) education is funded and look at whether the current grants-based system can be shifted to student loans.

Nursing students in London, for example, may receive a means-tested bursary of £3,191 for 2015/16.

The statement also calls on the NHS to explore whether employers could repay part of a student’s loan after a given period of employment to attract newly qualified staff into careers in the health service and help bring down spending on agency staff. Education for nurses, midwives and most AHPs is currently funded by NHS grants.

The CoDH and Universities UK statement says that these grants are not providing enough for students to live on, particularly given that their courses are significantly longer than that of the average university student.

Nursing students undertake 42 weeks a year compared with the 30 weeks of a typical undergraduate, and the statement cites how in one London university, 63% of the university’s hardship fund went to NHS-funded students in 2012/13.

The CoDH and Universities UK are calling for more flexibility in the system to ‘cushion’ the health service from changes that it cannot anticipate. Their joint statement says: ‘Because of the lag time in educating future health professionals, if the NHS’s predictions on the numbers are wrong, there is little resilience in the system. The resulting staff shortages put the existing workforce under enormous pressure, lead to unsustainable international recruitment and push up agency spending.’

Universities UK health education and research policy network chair Steve West said: ‘The current system of funding is not working. We don’t have enough nurses, midwives and AHPs in training to meet the current and future needs of patients. At the same time, students are not receiving enough financial support to meet their day-to-day costs of living and universities receive less for many of these courses than they actually cost to deliver, and less than the £9,000 fee that universities receive for other subjects.’

CoDH chair Professor Dame Jessica Corner 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.’

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