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Concern over scholarship funding

Nursing and health groups are calling for a boost to scholarship funding as the proportion of nurses awarded a scholarship falls dramatically. By Linda Belardi.

The National Rural Health Alliance has called for the number of government-funded undergraduate scholarships available to rural nursing and allied health students to be doubled.

Gordon Gregory, executive director of the alliance, said the applicant success rate for undergraduate nurses and midwives was nearly half the rate for undergraduate doctors.

The funding available under the Nursing and Allied Health Scholarship and Support Scheme (NAHSSS) scheme, the number of professions competing for scholarships and the range of scholarship types make the success rate for applicants relatively low, said Gregory in a federal budget submission. Currently the NAHSSS is shared amongst nurses and 19 allied health professions in five streams and includes undergraduate, postgraduate, continuing professional development and clinical placements.

His comments follow concerns raised by both the Australian Nursing Federation and the Australian Practice Nurses Association (APNA) in recent months about inadequate funding for nursing scholarships.

Belinda Caldwell, APNA chief executive told Nursing Review in February that the number of scholarships on offer to practice nurses had declined substantially since the consolidation of funding for nursing scholarships into the single program in July 2010.

In 2009, the overall number of scholarships awarded to nurses and midwives was 1461, which dropped to 553 in 2010, data supplied by the Department of Health and Ageing showed. However, numbers in 2011 have improved to 1141.

When the consolidation was announced in the 2009-2010 budget, the government said it was designed to achieve administrative efficiencies resulting in savings of $2.3 million over four years. However, the government said it would maintain the same number of scholarships during this period.

In 2011 just 16 per cent of nurses and midwives who applied for a scholarship were successful, compared to 55 per cent in 2009. However the department said an increase in demand for Australian government scholarships in 2011 has led to a decrease in the proportion of applicants that are awarded a scholarship. Applications have more than doubled since 2008 from 2575 to 6889 nurses and midwives in 2011.

In 2011, 346 undergraduate nursing and midwifery scholarships were awarded to students, of which nearly 60 per cent were from a rural or remote area.

Gregory said he was concerned about a loss of targeted funding to high priority areas in the consolidation of scholarship funding.

“The targeting of programs to areas of need could be lost if everyone has to fight with each other for what they once had. Money which was quarantined for a particular purpose now rolls into a common bucket,” he told NR.

In 2010, the government consolidated a number of nursing education and recruitment initiatives into a single program to create the NAHSSS. These programs included: the Rural Nurse Initiative (Nurse Scholarship program); Retraining Scholarships for More Practice Nurses and Allied Workers in Metropolitan Areas; Additional Practice Nurses for Rural Australia; and the Mental Health Postgraduate Scholarships scheme.

Australian Government funded nursing and midwifery scholarships from 2008 to 2011


Note – In 2010 a range of nursing and allied health scholarships were consolidated into the NAHSSS. Source: Data supplied from Department of Health and Ageing, March 2012.

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