English social work degree students starting courses this year will leave with additional debts of £9,000 because of the imposition of tuition fees.
The move, condemned by the British Association of Social Workers, will leave English students worse off than Welsh counterparts, and those studying social work in greater debt than nursing students.
A letter last week from the Department of Health to social work degree programme heads, leaked to Community Care, said undergraduates starting courses this September will face variable tuition fees.
These are likely to be £3,000 a year in most cases as universities are expected to charge the maximum amount.
The fees will be payable on graduation at a rate of 9 per cent on annual earnings of more than £15,000, which means someone with a starting salary of £20,000 will have to pay back £450 a year.
BASW director Ian Johnston said that people would be deterred from studying once they realised fees had been imposed: “It will hit people when they are faced by all sorts of other expenses such as housing,” he said.
As a partial compensation, bursaries will be increased by £1,500 a year for full-time students and £750 a year for part-timers. This makes a total for full-timers of £4,000 (£2,000 part-time) for those studying outside London and £4,400 (£2,200 part-time) for those in the capital.
But according to the National Union of Students, the annual cost of maintenance in 2005-6 was more than £8,300 for a London student and more than £7,000 for an out-of-London student, meaning debts on graduation could be as high as £21,000.
Overall, students from England will be worse off than those from Wales, who will continue to receive bursaries of £2,500 and to have their fees covered.
Students on three-year nursing or midwifery diploma courses, which are also governed by the DH, will still have their fees paid and enjoy bursaries of £6,879 in London and £5,837 outside London in 2006-7. Students on these courses have their fees paid but bursaries means-tested.
A DH spokesperson said: “This policy change provides a greater immediate incentive to students and greater choice. Students can choose to use the bursary to pay fees or they can use it to meet costs and take out a fee loan.”
Scottish social work students neither pay fees nor receive bursaries.