Monday 04-01-2016 - 14:37
Another year, another struggle. This week NHS students will take to the streets – under the banner #BursaryOrBust – to protest government plans to cut their bursaries this Saturday.
By Shelly Asquith, Vice President Welfare
Student nurses, midwives and others in receipt of the NHS bursary in England will now have to take on significant debt in order to study and work. For this blog, I spoke to some of the students affected.
Sophia Koumi, a trained mental health nurse and Sabbatical at KCLSU, is concerned that extra debt will put off future students. She said: “Currently, we know that struggling for three years will be worth it, because when we come out at the end and give all our time back to society, we won’t have horrific amounts of debt hanging over us.” She says student nurses already take on extra jobs to squeeze in between shifts and essay writing because the current loan and bursary package still is not enough.
Scott Ideson, Nursing Officer at LSBU, makes clear just how stretched these students already are: “We have a longer academic year and fewer holidays than typical university courses - and we spend half the year working unpaid.”
I have recently met with the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives, Unison and others, and collectively we have written to the Department for Health to object to these proposals. In the coming weeks, we will be financially and politically supporting more actions led by student groups to apply pressure on this issue.
The response has already been huge. More than the required 100,000 people signed the government petition within days, forcing a debate to take place on 11 January.
A national march will assemble in advance this Saturday, followed by a day of action as the debate takes place.
Shereen Prasad is a student at a further education college, currently on an Access to Nursing course. She is joining the demonstration this Saturday. She said: “This is a fight for our right to free education. We are training to serve the NHS, and we should not have to pay for that.”
Students in receipt of this bursary are more likely to be working class, Black, mature and women with caring responsibilities: all of whom are already disproportionately affected by the cost of living crisis. Another debt burden is not the answer – these students deserve respect, a fair wage and funding that recognises their crucial contribution to our healthcare service.
Because the bursary is NHS-funded (as opposed to directed from the Student Loans Company), it means these students often finish with an intrinsic loyalty to the institution. Sophia warns this change could be used to further the privatisation of healthcare in the UK: “The bursary affiliates nursing students to the NHS…the change will cut that tie, and the pressure of having to pay back loans will force people out of the NHS, so they can keep up with payments.” This move could push more graduates towards private agencies. This is not just a fight to retain bursaries, but a fight to defend the NHS as we know it.
Shereen urged everyone to get involved in the campaign, not just those who represent NHS students: “It should not be left to us to take this on alone.”
If you are able to make the march on 9 January, please consider volunteering as a steward. If you cannot make it, student groups are asking local actions take place on 11 January as a show of strength whilst MPs debate the topic.