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Physiotherapy student funding: changes to NHS Bursaries.

Amy Bendall, lecturer and BSc. admissions tutor at Cardiff University, discusses changes to NHS bursaries for physiotherapy students.

Since 1 August 2017 there has been a new funding system for new students on nursing, midwifery and most allied health profession courses (including physiotherapy) in England, with students no longer receiving NHS bursaries but instead having access to the same student loan system as other students. However, as a consequence of the four healthcare systems in place across the United Kingdom, this arrangement is not mirrored throughout and has resulted in differences in the ways that physiotherapy students in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now receive funding for their course. The finer details of the financial support available for health students throughout the UK can be found here.

In Wales, for example, since August 2017 students (UK and EU) studying on the pre-registration physiotherapy course can choose from one of the two routes of funding available: (1) A full NHS bursary, including tuition fees and a non-repayable bursary for living costs, or (2) Student Finance funding. For students that have their place on the course confirmed and want to choose option 1, it comes with the requirement that they commit to working in Wales for two years after qualifying. If students do not want to choose this option then they are still able to have their place on the course and instead are able to apply for financial support via Student Finance (e.g. take out a student loan). The two options available for students studying in Wales, and the different implications for the student, requires individuals to carefully consider which option is the right one for them, both in the short and long-term.

For any healthcare student in the UK that takes out a student loan, information on the Government website states that by students receiving this financial support from Student Finance it offers around 25% more upfront financial support while studying - for example, a single student on a 3-year programme would receive approximately £2,000 more each year on a student loan compared to an NHS bursary. For those that do opt for a loan, the above website also states that only once they earn above a certain amount of money (currently above £21K) will they then start to repay it. The thresholds and amounts can change according to government policy but as an indication at the moment on a Band 5 salary in the NHS of £21.7K the repayment would be £5.25/month; any unpaid loan amount is written off after 30 years.

Over the last few years, the number of higher education institutions offering pre-registration physiotherapy programmes has risen. Alongside this, established courses have also increased the number of student places available, particularly in England due to the change to the tuition fee and student loan model thereby negating the cap on student places through NHS commissioning arrangements. The data published in the most recent CSP Pre-registration Physiotherapy Education: UK Annual Review shows that for the year 2016/17, student intake to pre-registration courses rose from 2238 to 2376. This data is from before the funding changes came into effect and stakeholders to pre-registration physiotherapy education watch with interest as to the influence that the differences in funding structures provided across the UK since August 2017 has on admissions and recruitment.

Amy Bendall is a lecturer at Cardiff University and the admissions tutor for the BSc (Hons) Physiotherapy Programme.