Nursing degree apprenticeships criticised by leading academic

New degree apprenticeships hark back to exploitation of students, says nurse professor.
Anne Marie Rafferty

The announcement of nursing degree apprenticeships has been criticised as an ‘act of amnesia’ by a leading nurse professor.

Historically, apprenticeships exploited nursing students, says Anne Marie Rafferty Photo: John Behets

The apprenticeships will be offered at the universities of Derby, Gloucestershire, Greenwich, and Sunderland from September next year. The courses have been created through a development fund from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE).

The apprenticeships offer an alternative to a traditional degree course, with apprentices spending part of their time at university and part in paid work with their employer.

‘Apprenticeships exploited students’

Anne Marie Rafferty, professor of nursing policy at King’s College London, said: ‘We spent generations dismantling the so-called apprenticeship system, because it was seen as a source of exploitation of student nurses, using them as “pairs of hands” to staff the service rather than providing a high quality of education.

 ‘Entry into higher education was an important step in establishing the status of nurses and midwives but we seem to be reinventing apprenticeships, now at degree level, in an act of historical amnesia.

‘Workplace-based education looks increasingly like a crowded field, with HEFCE and the Department of Education entering the fray. Who is in charge? Who is coordinating this policy and assuring quality and safety for the public in developing new routes to registration? There seems to be confusion with different drivers of the bus. I’m not at all clear whether the destination for this one is where we want to go.’

Nursing associates

Funding for creating a nursing associate apprenticeship will also be given by HEFCE to the University of Wolverhampton in partnership with Walsall College, City of Wolverhampton College and Birmingham Metropolitan College.

Last month, Health Education England announced the 11 partnership sites that will trial the new nursing associate role.

More than 1,000 nursing associates will start their training in December, in a role that is aimed at bridging the gap between nursing and healthcare assistants.

Routes into profession

Sarah Burden, a senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University who is also on the RCN education forum steering committee, says that with all the changes to funding and fees, which include the demise of the bursary, ways to enter the profession are ‘starting to get crowded’.

‘It will be interesting to see the description for this nursing apprenticeship course in relation to the nursing associate as the two could get confusing,’ she said.

‘For people who do not want to get into as much debt through a conventional degree, an apprenticeship course could be a very attractive option.’

Academic rigour

Peter Griffiths, chair of health services research at the University of Southampton, said the apprenticeships could be a valuable, but warned: ‘It will be important to ensure these courses are just as rigorous as standard routes and that the programmes are properly evaluated to ensure nurses are prepared to meet the needs of the NHS in the future, not just the local employers who are sponsoring.’