More university places for nurses a national priority

A report by the University of Western Sydney’s Centre for Innovation and Industry Studies argues that the reliance of some employers on 457 Visas reflects a major economic failure of the Howard government to maintain an effective training and skills formation system.

‘Skills shortages require a systematic approach to domestic training and career development supplemented by stocks of skilled migrants,’ the report said.

The report lists the stagnation of training numbers, an ageing population and the changing nature of employment relationships as among the key causes of the skills shortage.

Unions and the Labor Party have been strongly critical of the federal government’s reliance on the 457 Visas to solve critical skills shortages.

In turn, Prime Minister John Howard has accused the Labor-run states of being ‘up to their armpits in these visas’.

He said the NSW Department of Health was the biggest user of the 457 Visa Scheme last year.

The state government lays the blame for this need to go offshore squarely at the feet of the federal government.

‘We are forced to look overseas because the Commonwealth government won’t provide enough university places to train new nurses,’ NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos told The Sun Herald.

The national statistics on nurse education do tell a story of poor domestic labour market planning in the nursing sector:

  • only 5,720 nursing students graduated in 2004
  • 12,451 students commenced nursing degrees in 1996. By 2004 the number of commencements along with the number of funded university places had dropped to 8,803
  • in 2005, 2,761 or 20% of eligible nursing applicants missed out on an undergraduate nursing place
  • almost half of the current nursing workforce will contemplate retirement in the next 10-15 years.

It is estimated that NSW needs another 1,426 nurses to properly staff its public hospitals. Two hundred British and Irish nurses are expected to arrive over the next few months, following a recruitment drive in Britain by the State Government. Last year, 300 nurses came from these same countries.

In April this year, the federal government announced an extra 1,000 places for nursing nationally, starting from 2007. However, only 176 of these places have been allocated for NSW, 150 of them to be offered in Sydney.