Social work academics have hit out at an “unacceptable” delay in the government’s decision on social work bursary funding for students starting in September. Here, four students describe how the uncertainty is impacting them…
Frances, 26: ‘You feel devalued before you’ve even started’
I’m due to start my MA social work course at Manchester Metropolitan University in September. At the moment I work for the Alzheimer’s Society in London. I’ve handed in my notice at work and on my contract on my flat, so I’ll be moving in a few weeks.
The bursary uncertainty’s a real worry. I applied for this course in September last year. I’ve planned everything around it. Now I’m worried it might not happen because I’ve decided if I don’t get the bursary I’m not going to do it – I just financially cannot do it.
But the delay also makes me feel the government doesn’t think much about courses like mine – they’ve indicated they want to move more people to doing fast-track courses. I’ve been really impressed by my university but if the government removes bursaries it is sending a signal that they feel these courses aren’t worth as much. It makes me question everything because I’m committing two years to doing this.
I’ve thought about doing social work for ages. I’ve worked as a support worker with older people for a few years. I really enjoy it but I want to build my skills and knowledge. For me, social work is a natural progression.
I’d like a decision on bursaries either way. I saw Community Care’s article the other day where the government said there will be a bursary. But it has taken so long I don’t really believe them until they confirm it, and even if they do provide them maybe they’ll just halve the numbers or the bursary won’t be worth as much as it has been in previous years.
I don’t blame my university at all. They’ve been really open about the bursary situation the whole time and kept us updated as best they can. The problem lies with the people making the decisions in the government. I don’t understand why it is taking so long. It’s not nice feeling devalued before you’ve even started your social work training.
Rachael, 31: ‘The government needs to give us an answer’
I’m due to start my social work course at Edinburgh University in a few weeks. I’ve put my notice in to reduce my hours at work, I’ve signed a contract for a house up there as I’ll be moving from Middlesbrough. It’s a big move and the delay on bursaries is making it feel like more of a gamble.
It means I’ve no idea whether I’ll be paying full tuition fees myself, or whether I’ve any kind of funding support. The bursary is around eight or nine thousand pounds – it makes a big difference.
If I’m left without a bursary I’ll still do the course but I know it will be very, very hard. You’re trying to do a two year work-based programme and go on full-time placement for 170 days. How are you meant to work part-time on top of that? I’m fortunate I’ve an understanding employer which might make it possible, but many people won’t.
If we haven’t got a bursary, we need to know. We were told we’d know by the end of May, then by the end of June. That’s come and gone and the patience among students is running out. We see the government investing a lot in Frontline and Step Up, yet we cannot get a timely announcement on the very few bursaries available for other social work students.
I want to train as a social worker because I’ve spent a lot of time volunteering with vulnerable adults. I think social work’s a job that can help change lives. It’s tangible, it’s interesting, it’s challenging. I work within the children’s social work sphere at the moment. I think it’s a brilliant profession. But we all need encouragement, not just those on Frontline and Step Up.
I don’t have a 2:1 degree so I can’t do those courses. But I do have 10 years’ experience in children’s social care and I’ve deliberately chosen to apply to do social work this year because I get the impression that there won’t be any bursaries for students outside the fast-track schemes from next year.
The government needs to give us an answer. At the end of the day, people are changing their lives to do social work – this uncertainty is creating a whole level of unnecessary angst.
Kate, 28: ‘The DH needs to get its act together. It’s disheartening’
I’m starting an MA in social work at Bristol University in September. I’ve already had to hand in my notice at work and finish up in three weeks.
I’m really looking forward to training as a social worker but not knowing about the bursary is really concerning. My tuition fees alone are over £6,000 per year. My rent is £700 per month so I’m really reliant on the bursary to pay towards tuition fees but also help with living costs.
The most frustrating thing is just getting no news for months. Nobody is telling us why the bursary announcement is delayed, or when we’ll find out. The most I’ve found out is that we should know by the time university starts.
If I suddenly find out just before term starts that I haven’t got the bursary, I haven’t got long to try and find alternative funding or rethink things. It’s all a bit close to the bone because it is a massive thing to decide to give up a full-time job, with a salary, to go and study for two years.
The other worry is that everyone at the moment is hoping to get a bursary but there are a limited amount of places. After this gigantic wait some of us still won’t get a bursary, yet we haven’t been given time to plan.
If I don’t get the bursary, I’d still want to try and do the course but I’d have to look really seriously at my finances. I’m using my deposit on a house to do this course. I think my savings could get me through one year of university and then instantly I’ve got the worry of what would happen in the second year.
I’ve been looking at the postgraduate loan but it doesn’t feel like a viable option because it’s not enough money, the interest rate seems high and you have to pay it back within a month of graduating regardless of whether you have a job or not.
I feel like I’m one of the luckier people. I don’t have children or a mortgage. I’ve a huge amount of sympathy for people who are still waiting, who have kids or other responsibilities.
The Department of Health really needs to get their act together and tell people if they are going to get the bursary or not. They are making it so hard for people to make this huge change – for a lot of people this is a second career, they have families and to be left like this is incredibly disheartening.
Sarah: ‘My colleagues, friends and family are all affected’
I’ve been waiting for months, thinking that the bursary details should have been out by the end of May as stated by NHS and Department of Health. I found out more recently that they were very late announcing them last year too but not as late as this year.
I did have a major stress about it a while ago but I’ve now got everything lined up whether I’m going or not. My daughter’s nursery need to know change of days by end of August, so I have until then.
My employer technically only needs to know by 26th August to give notice but I’ve agreed I can stay on one shift a week, on a Sunday. Rota covering the end of September is out this week so it may be tricky getting my boss to cancel the extra shifts.
As I haven’t been able to have my application assessed for the capped bursary I was not aware that I would not be entitled to childcare or the parent learning allowance until a chance phone call – I am entitled to about half the maintenance payment so had foolishly assumed the same applied to the other means tested elements. I have now got my family stepping up to help. If I hadn’t found this out until the last minute it might have been even more stressful than it was.
My colleagues, friends and family are all directly affected by this delay.