More funding needed for uni nursing places

Jan Brown, coordinator of the nursing program at UNE says the problem of attracting people into nursing and then keeping them there is complicated but the funding of university places still remains a key aspect.

‘There are issues about attracting young people. They have choices. It remains problematic despite the money spent and the campaigns run,’ she said.

‘Employers could do more. They could be more flexible with rosters and provide more family-friendly workplaces for young families – better pay, more flexibility, better childcare. Workplace bullying is still alive and kicking and that remains a big problem.

‘Student hardship is also a big problem. It’s hard enough in the metro areas where they live close to the unis. In the rural areas it’s even worse. To do their pracs, students may have to move large distances with the great expense of transport and accommodation.’

Jan says the funding of university places still remains a core part of the problem.

‘More money is needed for nurse education. There’s more money for medical education than nursing education. The government should put more money into nurse education considering nurses are the backbone of the health system,’ she said.

Jan says there are a number of initiatives the federal government could push to improve the situation.

‘The government could put more money into nurse places and more scholarships. They could abolish HECS or drastically reduce it for students. That would really make a difference.’

Jan says a long-term strategy to solve the shortage will depend on educating our own nurses and ending the blame game between state and federal governments.

‘Bringing labour in from overseas is a short-term solution. Not a large number stay and when they go home we are left with the same problem,’ she said.

‘It’s a federal government responsibility to provide for the number of students and the quality of their education. That funding comes through the universities.

‘We’ve maintained the student intake numbers but they haven’t increased drastically. The government has always baulked at spending money. It’s about time the skills, dedication, commitment and intelligence of nurses are recognised. The health system depends on it.’

The sad state of our tertiary Education

A booming economy requires planning well in advance to cater for future workforce needs yet:

  • Since 2001, almost 150,000 eligible applicants have been turned away from Australia’s universities.
  • Since 1998, 300,000 have been turned away from TAFE colleges.
  • In 2005, 2,716 applicants were turned away from nursing courses, 235 in NSW.
  • Since 1995, Australia’s public investment in tertiary education has dropped by 7%, compared with an average increase by other OECD countries of 48%.

TAFE NSW shows how it can be done

While TAFEs around the country have been creaking from under investment and neglect, there has been one shining example of how, with adequate funding and a sound relationship with an employer, TAFEs can be effective in turning out skilled trainees to ameliorate a shortage.

TAFE NSW has a unique relationship with NSW Health that provides sufficient funding and the clinical support necessary to be effective in supplying ENs for the state. Other states are more dependent on federal funding for EN training.

Students are paid to come to TAFE and then provided with employment. The area health services provide clinical training.

Viki Altas, who did the course as a mature-age student, thought it was a great program.

‘I came into nursing as a mature student. There’s a good balance between the theory and the clinical practice. The TAFE teachers at Ultimo were brilliant,’ she said.

‘I’m going to go on and do my RN training because of it.’