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Forget the bursary – nursing students need a new funding solution

As the college’s student members lobby MPs on funding for nurse education, RCN student committee member Kelly Hitchcock says it’s time to recognise the contribution nursing students make

As the college’s student members lobby MPs on funding for nurse education, RCN student committee member Kelly Hitchcock says it’s time to recognise the contribution nursing students make


Picture: Alamy

Once again, the issue of funding for nursing students has raised its ugly head.

This has been discussed many times since the bursary was scrapped in England in 2017 and is not likely to go away any time soon.

In recent weeks, calls for a debate in the House of Commons have once again seen the issue being discussed on social media, and earlier this month the RCN launched the Fund Our Future campaign, calling for at least £1 billion a year to be returned to nursing education funding in England.

The campaign is being led by the college’s student members. Later today, at a lobbying event in Westminster, nursing students will meet MPs and share their experiences of debt, stress and hardship under the current system.

The lobbying event will be followed by a debate on investing in nursing higher education, where the RCN will launch a report with recommendations on how to solve the sharp fall in nursing student applications and worsening attrition rates.

Making ourselves heard

Nursing students are not like any other students, and now is the time for us to make our voices heard.

Too often, we are told by nurses more experienced at campaigning that the fight to bring back the bursary must be renewed. But this is not the message coming from nursing students.

'We work full-time hours, in the same shift pattern as the registered nurses who mentor us. On top of this we are expected to complete degree-level academic assignments'

The bursary was never ideal – it had many problems. If you listen to us we will tell you why the solution is not as easy as bringing back the bursary.

The first thing we want to highlight is exactly what it is to be a nursing student today, something many registered nurses and members of public simply do not understand.

Full-time hours

As students, we sign up to a degree course in which we spend 50% of our time working on wards or in the community. We are often used to plug gaps in staffing, and are constantly contributing to patient care as we work alongside our nursing colleagues in essential hands-on roles.

'Nursing students have had enough of being told what the solution to this problem is. We need a new, bespoke funding package which protects our physical and mental health'

On placement, we work full-time hours, in the same shift pattern as the registered nurses who mentor us. On top of this we are expected to complete degree-level academic assignments.

Then there are our families, homes, children, all requiring our time and attention.

Unpaid work

What few people realise is that we do this work unpaid. For those nursing students still in receipt of a bursary, it has been suggested that the bursary itself is compensation for the work done.

If this is true, then nursing students are being paid less than £2 per hour for their efforts. For those students on the new loan system, 2,300 hours of unpaid work is rewarded with a debt of between £30,000 and £60,000.

Is it any wonder we are not attracting nursing students to our universities?

Nursing students have had enough of being told what the solution to this problem is. We need a new, bespoke funding package which protects our physical and mental health by allowing us to complete our degree course without working 70-hour weeks, without the stress of struggling to pay rent, and without feeling like the only option is to go hungry.

We need a bespoke funding package which recognises the contribution nursing students make and which values us as the future of nursing.


Kelly Hitchcock is an RCN student committee member

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