The government has tried to cushion the blow of removing the bursary, by announcing that it intends to offer £10,000 ‘golden hellos’ to incentivise postgraduate nursing students.
Speaking in a Commons debate on 9 May, health minister Stephen Barclay said: ‘Working with colleagues in the Department for Education, and taking some of the lessons about targeted support that have been learned in teaching, we intend to offer £10,000 golden hellos to postgraduate students in specific hard-to-recruit disciplines — mental health, learning and disability, and district nursing — to reflect the fact that those disciplines often have particular recruitment difficulties.’
Now that postgraduate funding has been removed, the ‘golden hello’ will be the only form of funding available to students – but it will only be offered in the first year of study.
The announcement came during an opposition debate on the removal of student bursaries for nurses. According to Labour, in the two years since the bursary was scrapped for undergraduates, applications have fallen by 33%, with a 42% drop among mature students.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) previously warned that taking away more student funding would reduce the workforce even further – which was the case when undergraduate bursaries were removed in 2017.
Mr Barclay’s announcement has received a critical welcome from nursing organisations. ‘This appears to be a welcome concession from the government that more needs to be done to convince graduates of other subjects to study nursing. But better still would be to drop its plans to remove full support from these students,’ said Janet Davies, chief executive of the RCN.
‘Nursing must be expanded at scale and pace to keep patients safe and students, both undergraduate and post-graduate, should be encouraged and financially supported. The RCN will not drop that call until the government goes further, not least with grants and a full raft of other incentives for undergraduates who make up the bulk of trainees each year.’
Two-year postgraduate courses are aimed at students holding degrees in other subjects and remains the fastest way of qualifying – which is important given the current shortage of 40,000 nurses in England alone.
With the removal of the bursary, ministers announced extra undergraduate places but were unable fill them – around 700 fewer students were enrolled in September 2017.