The introduction of non-repayable grants for students in England

18 December 2019

Fleur Nielsen, Head of Policy

The Council has welcomed the announcement of new financial support for healthcare students. As Head of Policy at the Council over the last four years, this intervention feels like it has been a long time coming.

  • In 2016 we called for careful management of funding reforms with appropriate arrangements to mitigate risks to vulnerable courses and student groups. [We have since undertaken extensive analysis of the implementation of 2017 and 2018 changes, much of which fell well short of our expectations].
  • By autumn 2017, after falling applications to nursing, particularly by mature students, we recommended in our written submission to the Health Committee nursing workforce inquiry, and in our oral evidence, the use of student funding incentives such as grants or tuition fee write-off in return for service.
  • 2018 saw an escalation of interest from policy makers. We worked closely with the Department of Health and Social Care on its deep dive investigation into nurse recruitment. Extensive engagement with members last autumn led to a firmer position on student support as well as clear lines on national recruitment campaigns and placement capacity. This work influenced the January 2019 Long Term Plan and later our work with NHS England and others on the Interim and Full People Plan.
  • This year we continued to lobby on the conditions necessary for workforce growth, influencing the introduction of additional funding for placement capacity, reinvestment in CPD and a more concerted national recruitment campaign for nursing. We have shared our members’ views with the National Audit Office, the Prime Minister’s Implementation Unit and the Health Committee’s Spending Review inquiry.

So I celebrate the announcement of non-means tested and non-repayable funding support for our healthcare students in England. We believe that this will encourage students to consider our professions, will recognise their value to the health and social care sector and more importantly will help support them through their studies. At the same time we will continue to lobby for concerted national recruitment campaigns and a strategic approach to placement capacity.

However, the student funding debate is certainly not yet over. We will need to monitor the impact of differential funding incentives and will continue to call for support for all our professions. The Royal College of Nursing will continue to call for the Government to cover tuition fees and this is a particularly interesting proposition for postgraduate students, many of whom will never repay their second tuition loans. As a Council we have suggested tuition loan repayment for all healthcare professionals in return for service which we believe would increase both recruitment and retention.

The next few weeks are likely to see the Council working closely with NHS England/Improvement, the Department of Health and Social Care and others on implementation of these changes. Timing, communication and supportive approaches to placement capacity are paramount if we are to have the desired impact on student numbers.

As we finish another eventful year in Council policy, we wish all our members a well-deserved Christmas break and a very happy 2020.

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