The UK government has announced a U-turn on cuts to bursaries for student nurses and midwifes, re-introducing the grants two years after they were scrapped.
Returning prime minister Boris Johnson’s administration confirmed plans on Wednesday to offer students at least £5,000 a year in non-repayable funding towards living costs on courses from September 2020.
The changes come just weeks before the university application deadline of 15 January, with officials hoping they will be soon enough to encourage more students to apply for courses.
Johnson made headlines during the election campaign by pledging to put NHS funding high up on his agenda, and promised 50,000 more nurses. It was later revealed around 19,000 would be existing staff encouraged to remain in the profession.
It marks a stark reversal of the Conservative government’s previous policy, which saw both student bursaries and tuition fee payments controversially axed in England in 2017. Tuition fee payments will still not be restored.
The previous administration, under former prime minister David Cameron, had said making students pay would help fund up to 10,000 more places to help tackle a staffing crisis in NHS nursing.
The cuts had also come in the middle of an unprecedented round of public spending cuts, which began in the wake of the financial crisis.
But Johnson said on Wednesday he had “heard loud and clear” the NHS was voters’ priority, and said the new funding was a “crucial part” of building nursing staff numbers. His government has already abandoned some of the strict spending limits imposed by previous Conservative administrations.
A government press release said the measures would cost more than £2bn, but would benefit more than 35,000 students in nursing, midwifery and allied health courses every year.
A further £3,000 will be available for students in particular specialisms and regions where staff shortages are most severe, as well as in the form of a childcare allowance.