Nursing School Interview Hot Topic: Nursing Tuition Fees


Tuition fees for nurses are a topic of much debate for two reasons – firstly, it is often argued that fully qualified nurses aren’t adequately remunerated, despite giving their lives to help others and the NHS, and secondly, they are often used practically as fully working healthcare personnel whilst they are training. This leaves them in the slightly bizarre position of paying £9000 a year for what at times may feel a lot like an apprenticeship rather than a university degree. If one considers the far higher earning potential of doctors, combined with how much less is expected of a medical student vs a nurse at university, the issue becomes quite stark.

​The Decision to Scrap Bursaries

There is a shortage of nurses in England, which meant that the government’s decision to scrap the NHS bursary scheme in 2015 led to a huge amount of debate. It can be argued that scrapping bursaries, and instead requiring students to take out loans to pay their tuition, will increase the number of university places – by as much as 10,000 additional places, through making it more attractive, financially speaking, for universities to offer places on nursing courses. This would lead to more nursing students, and thus more qualified nurses in the years to come. On the flipside, many argue that through scrapping the bursary the government will dissuade many people from less fortunate backgrounds, or mature students who are already faced with debt or have less time to repay a debt, from applying to study Nursing at all. Those applying will now have to cover a debt they did not have to consider before.

As it stands, a nurse will have to repay more debt than a banker who also studies a three-year degree. This is because the banker will be able to repay their loan fairly quickly, whereas with the lower starting salary of nurses, it will take far longer to repay their debt, meaning that the interest accrued on their loan will continue to rise.

A Drop in Applicants

The effect of the government’s decision to remove bursaries has led to a dramatic drop in those applying to become nurses – validating those that argued against the decision. In 2017, there was a 19% drop in applicants versus 2016. However, it should be noted that applications were down overall for all courses, and that of course the total number of applicants doesn’t affect the number of nurses directly – it is the number of successful applicants who go on to graduate (i.e. applicants must be offered a place which they take up) that one should focus on.

If it is possible to offer increased places as a result of fees being paid, we must consider if there will be the requisite number of clinical placements – it is far harder for hospitals to provide a regular shift pattern to a trainee nurse than a university to offer another place in lectures and seminars. Universities therefore may let their desire for increased income lead them to offer too many places, meaning that teaching suffers as a result.

We will have to wait a few years to see the true impact of the decision to remove nursing bursaries. It may be that we see a change in the makeup of those studying to be nurses, or a change in their demands in terms of financial compensation.

The New Bursary

The new nursing bursaries offer a guaranteed support grant of £5000 a year for all, and up to £8000 for those applying for specific areas like Mental Health Nursing. This is part of the Conservatives’ drive to increase the number of nurses by 50,000 over the next five years. However, there is a huge caveat compared to the previous system: tuition fees are not covered.

Potential questions which may be asked in the interview

  • What do you know about nurses’ bursaries?
  • Do you think nurses should be offered bursaries?
  • Why should nurses be offered bursaries but not doctors?
  • What might happen as a result of the decision to remove the bursary covering nurses’ tuition fees?
  • Would you actively protest a decision to remove the current £5000 bursary? Would this be the correct thing to do?
  • What kind of people would be more or less likely to apply for Nursing in light of the tuition fee bursary being removed?

How to answer questions on this topic

Make sure you know that there is a bursary currently, but it doesn’t cover tuition fees. Reflect on who will be more or less challenged by the decision to remove the tuition fee bursary.

Further Reading....

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