Health unions call on Matt Hancock to recognise student contribution and abolish tuition fees

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Current students should also have fees reimbursed

Four leading unions have called on the Health Secretary to recognise the significant contribution by – and disruption to – nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students during the current crisis by abolishing tuition fees and reimbursing those already paid.

The Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Nursing, UNISON and the National Union of Students (NUS) have today (6 May) written to Matt Hancock asking him to “acknowledge students’ selfless service, not only with words, but in a tangible and quantifiable way”. They are asking that he:

  • reimburse tuition fees or forgive current debt for all current nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare students;
  • abolish student-funded tuition fees for all nursing, midwifery, and allied healthcare 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.

Royal College of Midwices chief executive and general secretary Gill Walton said: “Our students make an invaluable contribution to the health of our country, both during and after their training. Never has that been more apparent than during this current crisis, not only with those formally entering the workforce but many others volunteering in health and care settings. The policy of tuition fees for those in studying for healthcare degrees is, and always has been, a flawed one, as it does not take into account the considerable time spent on clinical placements. Now is the time to put right this wrong.”

UNISON general secretary Dave Prentis said: “Healthcare students have stepped up to the plate to help the NHS through the current crisis. Having racked up thousands of pounds of debt while learning the skills we so desperately need, many are now working alongside their more senior colleagues.

“The Government can show the depth of its gratitude by writing off their student fees. When the pandemic has passed, it must scrap them for all healthcare students in future and introduce proper maintenance support.”

Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Donna Kinnair said: “Before the pandemic, we had witnessed the devastating impact the introduction of tuition fees had on student nurse numbers, with a 31 per cent 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, abolishing tuition fees and building a workforce fit for the present, and the future.”

NUS vice-president welfare Eva Crossan Jory said: “The contribution of nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students to our society has always been immense but for too long has not been adequately recognised. The very cohorts of healthcare students currently experiencing unparalleled disruption to their education and volunteering to work on the frontline against Coronavirus are those who were also forced by the government to pay tuition fees and study without an NHS bursary. These key learners need more than weekly applause, they need a Student Safety Net. We urge the Government to commit to a radical new financial settlement for these students and all those to come.”

In their letter to the Health Secretary, the four unions have reminded him of the concerns they raised when the policy of tuition fees was first suggested – and how those concerns, including a shortfall in nurses and financial hardship for students, have been borne out. They have called on him to recognise the value and commitment of nursing, midwifery and allied healthcare students, not only during the current crisis but beyond it.

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