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Government ignoring needs of graduate students

Medical student leaders have given reluctant approval to an agreement on tuition fee arrangements for two more years, but are pushing for a long-term solution.

The government has agreed that medical students starting university in 2013 and 2014 will continue to have their tuition fees paid through the NHS bursary in years five and six of their course.

Graduate-entry students on fast-track courses will have to pay the first £3,465 of their fees in their first year themselves.

In years two to four, the NHS bursary will provide £3,465 towards their tuition, and graduate medical students will be entitled to student loans to make up the rest of the fees.

All medical schools in England have said they are planning to charge the maximum £9,000 annual tuition fees.

The move, announced by the Department of Health today, continues the interim funding arrangements agreed last year.

But there is still no provision for graduate medical students on traditional five-year courses.

Impossible burden

BMA medical students committee co-chair Marion Matheson commended the government for maintaining the funding levels despite the financial squeeze across the public sector.

But she said: ‘Once again, the government’s decision has ignored the financial plight of graduate medical students on five-year courses. They will have to pay £9,000 upfront for the first four years of medical school, which is an almost impossible amount of money to consider.’

She said this contradicted the government’s stated aim of widening access to the professions.

Ms Matheson insisted: ‘Medicine must be available to those students with the ability and not just the bank balance to become doctors.

‘By excluding graduate students through of a lack of financial support, the government is losing a great breadth of skills and experience.’

Bad timing

Ms Matheson also expressed concern about the lateness of the announcement.

The MSC has been pressing the government for a decision on tuition-fee arrangements since last summer.

Ms Matheson added: ‘Students having to apply in just a few months’ time for 2013/14 have only just found out what their financial situation will be.

Prospective and capable students might have been put off studying medicine as a result.’

The MSC will continue to lobby the government for a better deal for medical student finances.

In a letter to new BMA council chair Mark Porter, DH workforce development director Jamie Rentoul says the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the DH are ‘firmly committed to delivering a long-term solution to student support from 2015/16’.

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