English social work students starting degrees this autumn will leave with extra debts of £3,000 because of the imposition of tuition fees.
A Department of Health letter last month 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 move, condemned by the British Association of Social Workers, will leave English students worse off than their Welsh counterparts, and UK nursing students.
BASW director Ian Johnston said that people would be deterred from studying once they realised fees had been imposed.
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.
As a partial compensation, bursaries will be increased for full-timers to £4,000 (£2,000 part-time) for those studying outside London and to £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.
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.