Editorial

Tuition fees and loans won’t bring in recruits

Just about every nursing student in the UK has their course funded by one of the four UK governments, and receives a bursary to help with living expenses. These arrangements have been in place for years, with debate focusing primarily on whether students receive sufficient support, rather than on the system itself.

Just about every nursing student in the UK has their course funded by one of the four UK governments, and receives a bursary to help with living expenses. These arrangements have been in place for years, with debate focusing primarily on whether students receive sufficient support, rather than on the system itself.

That was until last week. In a joint statement, the organisations that represent universities generally and healthcare faculties proposed wholesale changes to the way nurse education is funded, calling for the introduction of tuition fees and student loans in place of free courses and bursaries. The Council of Deans of Health and Universities UK reckon such a system could help end the boom and bust cycle that afflicts nurse recruitment and would ensure students receive extra support during their studies.

These are noble aims but they carry significant consequences. Most obviously, the tuition fees and loans will have to be repaid once students qualify and start earning more than £17,335 a year. So nurses would spend years repaying their debts from salaries that are already ridiculously low and unlikely to increase any time soon.

Potential nurses could be put off the profession for fear of racking up debts

In their statement, the country’s leading nurse academics suggest that the government should repay these loans after a given period of service, or offer a retention bonus as an incentive. But the risk would remain that potential nurses could be put off the profession for fear of racking up debts running into tens of thousands of pounds in return for a career that is so poorly rewarded.

There is also a danger that many people, particularly those with limited financial resources, would be the very people most likely to be put off.

The deans and Universities UK are right to raise the issue, given the parlous state of nurse education and the lack of coherent workforce planning, but other solutions should be sought that are less likely to deter would-be nurses from joining the profession.

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