Student Nursing Bursary

As of August 2017, the student nursing bursary (along with many allied healthcare professional bursaries) ceased to exist. Where are we at now?

What was the bursary?

The bursary was a relic of when nurses were employed by individual hospitals while they did their training, and when all student nursing courses became university based, the bursary remained. It provided firstly, free university education for a range of students, fully funded by the NHS. This covered whatever the university fees were for that particular year, meaning that the student would not have to take out a student finance loan and have to repay any of that money back. Secondly, the bursary offered students money towards their studies, intended to cover cost of books, stationary, travel, rent etc. Part of this was a guaranteed £1000 grant for each student, with up to £8,750 as part of a means tested bursary.

Why was it changed?

As part of a government plan to increase the number of training places by 10,000 by 2020, removing the bursary would mean that the proposed places wouldn’t be restricted by NHS funds.

The NHS can’t afford it – *warning – dodgy maths* in the bursaries final year there were over 28,000 nursing students; now assuming they all received the full £9000 course fee bursary and then just the £1000 grant this would mean the NHS is paying £280,000,000 for the 2016-17 cohort *. This doesn’t take into account the extra £7000 ish you can get as a grant, or those students who pay their own fees or are from abroad. The sheer cost of nursing students alone is pretty pricey and therefore limits the number of places available each year.

Students are no longer employees – student nurses are now trained by universities and have a supernumerary status when out on placement.

They have access to more money – more loans will be available to students.

Applicants will be more passionate and motivated – those that do still want to push ahead with their training regardless of the fees may be more motivated students. Also prevents people from doing the course who have no intention of working as a nurse while qualified.

No obligation to work – there is no obligation for NHS funded students to work in the NHS following qualifications, they can work privately, abroad or not work at all.

The Issues

Putting students off – a substantial number of nursing students are considered ‘mature’ (over 21), and often will have families and financial commitments before starting the course. Having to fund through student finance and other loans could be off putting to these students. Those mature students are more likely to have mortgages etc and could be put off by having to take out a large loan.

Number of placements and mentors – each area of the country will have a limited number of placements and mentors available to students. There is currently a shortage of mentors, particularly as there are over 34,000 nursing and midwifery vacancies.

Eliminates students who already have a degree – students cannot have more than one student loan so anyone who has already done a degree will not be able to get more funding.

Limited non-loan based finance – for those students who don’t mind a big loan, then there’s tons of money available, but those who don’t have very limited time to take part in part time employment, especially while on placement where they’re expected to work 37.5 hours a week on top of their coursework.

Has there been an impact?

The year following the removal of the bursary saw a 23% fall in applicants, with a 20% decrease in those over 25 years old. Fewer acceptances onto courses also occurred and the change saw 80 fewer male applicants than the previous year. These numbers don’t however reflect any attrition of students from the courses once they’ve started.

Nursing student numbers from UCAS Clearing Analysis 2018.

So what?

While there is some rationale behind the removal of the bursary and its only been two years, there has already been a significant decline in the number of applicants to nursing courses and in the number of acceptances. The new nursing associate role appears to be going back a bit to the old ways of training, with the students being employed by a hospital with the condition that they work there for a set time; should student nurses go back to this way of training? Potentially, employing students again would cost the NHS even more, with just paying them minimum wage costing over £15,000 a year **.

It’s clear that there are a huge number of nursing posts that need to be filled, and soon. Between March 2017-18, 25,000 nurses from the UK left the register, with only 21,000 new nurses joining, a deficit that has been increasing since 2013. The new health minister has promised to review the whole situation again and to work more closely with the Royal College of Nursing to improve funding, while at the same time Scotland has just bumped its own bursary up to £10,000. Will the removal of the bursary actually have the desired effect and give the nursing workforce the big boost in numbers it needs, or is this a downward spiral that is only going to continue?

* this figure is a total gestimation – I couldn’t find an official number so calculated a rough estimate for illustrative purposes.

** more dodgy maths using minimum wage for over 25’s (2018-19) £7.83, assuming they’re payed for 37.5 hours a week, 52 weeks a year = £15,268.50.


(Mitchell, 2018a; NHS Digital, 2018; UCAS, 2018a, 2018b)(Watson, no date)(Mitchell, 2018b)

Mitchell, G. (2018a) Health minister bows to pressure to rethink student nurse funding, Nursing Times. Available at: (Accessed: 31 December 2018).

Mitchell, G. (2018b) Scottish student nurse and midwife bursaries rise to £10,000, Nursing Times. Available at: (Accessed: 2 January 2019).

NHS Digital (2018) NHS Vacancy Statistics England – February 2015 – March 2018. Available at:—february-2015—march-2018-provisional-experimental-statistics (Accessed: 21 December 2018).

Nursing and Midwifery Council (2018) The NMC register. Available at: (Accessed: 3 January 2019).

UCAS (2018a) 2018 Clearing Analysis. Available at: (Accessed: 21 December 2018).

UCAS (2018b) Daily Clearing Analysis: Sex. Available at: (Accessed: 21 December 2018).

Watson, R. (no date) Nurses don’t need bursaries – here are four reasons why, 2018. Available at: (Accessed: 2 January 2019).

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