Published Thursday, 06 September 2012
Nursing students are facing a 15% cut in bursaries available. (© Getty)
NUS-USI President Adrianne Peltz was commenting on the Health Minister's announcement on Thursday that annual bursaries will be cut by almost 15% from £6055 to £5165.
Book and uniform allowances will also be scrapped for students commencing study from 2012 and beyond.
"This announcement is absolutely catastrophic, and so is the timing of it," Ms Peltz said.
"People are about to commence their courses in the coming days, and they now face this financial bodyblow. This announcement is a disaster for nursing and midwifery students.
"Imagine a wage cut of almost 15% and the impact that this would have on people's ability to make ends meet. This is what is happening as regards every new nursing student here.
They will contribute so much to our heath service through the massive number of hours they will work in our hospitals during their work placements. This is essentially a massive wage cut for them.
"Also, the fact that the Minister is abolishing the much valued book and uniform allowance brings into even sharper focus the massive financial pressure that new nursing and midwifery students will now face," she added.
"This announcement will have thrown into turmoil the plans of students who are starting nursing and midwifery courses in the next few days and weeks, and now face this devastating cut in their bursary.
The president of the union, which represents over 200,000 higher and further education students, said the concerns of students have not been taken into account during the consultation process.
A statement from the Department of Health said the changes will bring payments in line with other health and social care students.
As well as the cuts to non means-tested bursaries, means-tested Dependency Allowances will be increased by 5% in 2012.
The bursary scheme was initially introduced at a time when it was difficult to attract students to train as healthcare professionals, and it is important over time to harmonise the different schemes to ensure funding is fair across professions.
Health Minister Edwin Poots
Edwin Poots said that the reduction would be "disappointing" for some students enrolling this semester.
"However, I remain fully committed to supporting our student nurses and midwives in their training and my Department will continue to fund training for Health and Social Care Students," he said.
"I must balance this though against the ongoing need to ensure value for money and sustainability in bursary provision."
He said the reduction would make savings of £2.2 million over a three-year period for the health service.
"For those students with dependants I have approved an increase in the means-tested element of the scheme to continue to encourage those students with caring responsibilities to access and complete training," the Health Minister explained.
"I hope to increase this element incrementally over the next two years if it proves affordable given my budget pressures."