RCN calls for urgent investment into nursing higher education


As part of their newly-published report, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has outlined the need for long-term investment in nursing higher education in England to address the current workforce shortage.

Detailing in their Beyond the Bursary: Workforce Supply report the steps they feel government must take to demonstrate that the nursing profession is valued, they call for appropriate financial support for nursing students. These measures include:

  • reimbursing tuition fees or forgiving current debt for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students impacted by the removal of the bursary
  • abolishing self-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied health care students starting in 2020/21 and beyond
  • introducing universal, living maintenance grants that reflect actual student need.

Government initially removed the nursing bursary in England in 2017, which had previously supported students financially as they studied to become qualified nurses. Following subsequent declining numbers of nursing degree applicants, the government has since announced the re-establishing of an annual maintenance grant of between £5,000 and £8,000 per student, effective from this September.

While this year has seen a small uplift in applications, they are still down by 17% from 2016/17 – the final year in which student nurses did not have to pay their own fees.

RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The pandemic has shone a light like never before on the work of nurses. It also saw many thousands of student nurses come forward to provide their services across the NHS. Yet when they finish their training, they will be left with tens of thousands of pounds of debt which, for many, will never be paid off.

“There are simply not enough nurses being trained in this country and we can no longer rely on recruiting from overseas. Unless urgent action is taken, we could see vacancy numbers reach 100,000 by the end of the decade.

“Now is the time to grow our domestic workforce supply and properly invest in the training of new nurses to deliver safe and effective care in every acute and community setting, in both health and social care, across the country.”

Chair of the RCN UK Students Committee Jessica Sainsbury added: “Everyone who wants to become a nurse should be encouraged and supported to do so, and all financial barriers must be removed. I and my fellow nursing students urge the government to fund our future nurses to build a nursing workforce that meets patient needs for the long term.”