The RCN, alongside the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), UNISON and the National Union of Students (NUS), has written to Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock making three key demands on the government to show recognition of the significant contribution made by nursing, midwifery and allied health care students during the current COVID-19 crisis.
The unions are calling on the government to:
- reimburse tuition fees or forgive current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students;
- abolish student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students starting in 2020/21 and beyond, in recognition that they will be supporting vital public services; and
- introduce universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.
RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “Before the pandemic, we had witnessed the devastating impact the removal of the bursary had on student nurse numbers, with a 31% reduction in university applications for nursing courses since 2016.
“This is a major reason why the nursing workforce in England entered the COVID-19 crisis with almost 40,000 unfilled posts – and with one arm effectively tied behind its back.
“Many student nurses have elected to become an invaluable part of the workforce at a time when the country needs them most, but they are still paying tuition fees, and this is simply not right. Now is the time for the government to recognise the ongoing contribution of student nurses by dropping the debt, covering tuition fees and building a workforce fit for the present, and the future.”
Chair of the RCN Students Committee Jessica Sainsbury said: “Whether a student nurse has chosen to complete their course on the emergency education standards out in practice, or they’re still on their original education programme, the reality is that the impact of the debt they’ve incurred due to tuition fees and living costs has a long-lasting impact on them.
“Student nurses work so hard on placement and at university that they struggle to retain a part-time job or end up working excessive hours in order to make ends meet. Many have bills to pay and even families to support with extra pressures on their finances, the reality is that many are struggling.
“Some student nurses graduate with many tens of thousands of pounds of debt because of the tuition fees they have to pay and a lack of additional financial support. It’s high time the government gets behind student nurses by providing full tuition fee support and maintenance grants which cover the true cost of living for all nursing students in England for those studying now and in the future. Any student who is in debt due to their nursing education should have their debt dropped.”