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BMA calls for clarity over NI medical student funding uplift

BMA calls for clarity over NI medical student funding uplift

The BMA has welcomed uplifts to student funding in Northern Ireland to tackle the cost-of-living crisis but called for greater clarity over the support medical students will receive.

In August, the BMA revealed that six in ten UK medical students are being ‘forced to cut spending on essentials’ such as food and heating.

The Northern Irish Government yesterday announced a 40% increase in maximum student maintenance loans for full-time undergraduate students from 2023/2024, with an estimated additional £55m to assist with living costs amid the current cost-of-living crisis.

Alongside this, it said it will ‘undertake a full review of the higher education funding system, including the support provided to students such as maintenance loans, grants and other student support products, and the support provided to the sector, such as the level and mix of teaching grant and fees’.

However, it is unclear whether this will apply to all medical students, including graduate medical students.

The BMA welcomed the ‘overdue’ review but called on the economy minister to ‘clarify that any increase in support to students also applies to medical students’.

BMA NI medical students committee chair Victoria Paice said: ‘We have long said that the current student finance system for medical students is unfair, hard to navigate and is failing students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

‘We would call on the Minister to clarify that any increase in support to students also applies to medical students – including graduate medical students who receive limited to no financial support – given he has also announced a rise in tuition fees by 1.8%.’

She added that it is a ‘myth’ that all medical students receive generous financial support or are from wealthy backgrounds and that ‘the reality is that medical students are struggling financially now more than ever’.

She said: ‘If we are to future-proof our workforce and ensure we have enough doctors to care for our growing and ageing population, then a fair and simplified student finance system needs to be prioritised to help grow our medical workforce and encourage young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds to enter the profession.’

A recent BMA survey of 1,119 medical students found that 62% of them reported being ‘forced to cut spending on essentials such as food, clothing, and heating’ and almost one in 25 students reported accessing food banks.

According to the BMA, undergraduate medical students in England are entitled to the same amount of financial support as other students in the first four years of their studies.

However, in their fifth and sixth years, medical students can only access a ‘reduced maintenance loan’ from Student Finance England and the NHS bursary provides eligible full-time undergraduate students with additional support.’

Medical students ‘see their income drop by several thousand pounds in their final two years of study, when they are on clinical placements in the NHS and have less time to work’, the BMA has said.