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Sector leaders call for government U-turn on nursing student fees

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Thanks for helping with Covid-19—but now pay your fees, Gavin Williamson tells nursing students

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has come under fire for insisting that student nurses who work for the NHS during the pandemic must continue to pay tuition fees.

Williamson told Robert Halfon, Conservative MP and chair of the House of Commons education committee, that nursing students who worked in the NHS curing the Covid-19 crisis “will continue to be required to pay fees for their final term” in a letter dated 2 June.

Research Professional News’s Our Debt, Not Theirs campaign has been calling for the government to immediately guarantee that student nurses who have supported the NHS during the pandemic will not be liable for tuition fees while they are working, and later for all nurses to have their tuition fee debt cancelled.

In response to the letter Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the university departmental body the Council of Deans of Health, told Research Professional News the council had argued “there is a strong case for considering the introduction of loan forgiveness schemes or tuition fee exemption for all healthcare students to encourage the growth of student numbers and support retention”.

She added that the council had supported the recruitment of nursing students “in the context of an emergency and the pandemic”, but students should now return to their normal placements.

Chief executive of the modern universities’ body MillionPlus, Greg Walker, stressed that the group’s recommendations on protecting courses for key workers included tuition fee forgiveness, and “would benefit those wishing to train in the key public service professions that we have come to rely so heavily upon during the Covid-19 crisis”.

Mike Adams, Royal College of Nursing director for England, said students’ work for the NHS during the pandemic “has demonstrated the huge contribution nursing undergraduates make to our health and care services—neither they nor future students should have to pay tuition fees to do this”.

In the letter, Williamson said the government was “extremely grateful to all students who are choosing to work in the NHS during this extremely difficult time and will be ensuring all students who do so are rewarded fairly for their hard work”.

Students who work for the NHS during the pandemic receive salaries and pension benefits, and any student maintenance Learning Support Fund payments. Williamson said that the time students spend in clinical practice “will count towards the number of practice hours that they need to qualify”.