English universities are looking to expand the intake of students in healthcare courses next year, according to the Health Education England (HEE) board.

HEE chair Sir Keith Pearson told Nursing Times that a couple of universities had informed the board that they expected to welcome “extremely high” numbers of students for the 2017/18 academic year.

Its chief executive, Ian Cumming, concurred, saying that specialised courses such as children’s nursing and adult nursing were among those being considered for expansion.

However, Cumming declined to specify which universities were involved and how many more students they were planning to take on.

He added that the HEE expected to receive more detailed proposals on changes to cohort sizes, as well as new courses, from the institutions by January next year.

This expansion comes at a time when the higher education industry is concerned over whether a recent decision by the government to get rid of the bursary for healthcare students would make it a less attractive option for prospective students.

Students and higher education providers have criticised Whitehall over its move to axe the bursary for pre-registration nursing, midwifery, and allied health professional (AHP) students.

Starting from autumn 2017, students will no longer receive an allowance to pay off their tuition fees or living expenses, and will instead have to take out a loan.

The loan, which is expected to reach a total of at least £47,000 per student for a three-year course, is meant to pay for training and day-to-day expenses.

Jon Ashworth, Labour MP for Leicester South, wrote in a blog post earlier this month: “It is clear to everyone, except the government, that the loss of bursaries threatens to reduce the supply of future nurses and midwives at a time when patient demand is rising.”

He added that nursing and healthcare students were unable to find other means of supporting themselves financially, as clinical placements, which involve early, late night, and weekend shifts, mean that they have no time to take on paid work elsewhere.

According to the government, however, axing the bursary would free up funds to allow universities to accept an additional 10,000 student nurses, midwives, and AHPs by 2020.

Image via Flickr

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