Quick guide to the social work bursary reforms for 2013-14

The government is changing how the bursary for postgraduate social work students works from September. Here’s our quick guide to what’s happening.

What is the social work bursary?

Introduced in 2003, the social work bursary aims to encourage more graduates to become social workers by providing financial support to those taking postgraduate courses that result in them becoming qualified social workers. But, in line with wider efforts to reduce government spending, the Department of Health (DH) is reforming how the bursary works. The changes will take effect from the start of the 2013-14 academic year.

What will the reforms mean?

For students who were awarded bursaries in previous academic years the changes should make no difference, but it will affect those starting postgraduate social work courses from this September. The big change is the introduction of a cap on the number of bursaries awarded. From the 2013-14 academic year, the number of bursaries will be limited to 1,500 students. This compares to a total of 2,000 bursaries awarded in the 2012-13 academic year.

Who will qualify for a bursary?

The DH plans to reveal the full criteria “shortly”, but some details are already known. Students will need to be attending a postgraduate social work course approved by the Health and Care Professions Council as a route to becoming a qualified social worker. They will also need to be “ordinarily resident” in England. This means that, on the day their course begins, they will be living in England and will have been resident in England for at least three years before the start of their course.

How will students get the bursary?

Each university will be allocated a set number of bursaries, based on the average number of social work bursaries their students received in the previous three years. The university will then make a shortlist of students it believes to be eligible for a bursary and pass that list to the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA), the body that handles the assessment and handing out of bursaries.

Students will then need to apply to the NHS BSA for the bursary. The application forms are not available yet, but are due to be released soon; probably this month. The NHS BSA will then assess each application against the criteria and make payments to students who qualify until each university’s allocation of bursaries is used up. Students will have until November 2013 to apply for a bursary for the 2013-14 academic year.

What can the bursary be used for?

The bursary is paid directly to students and they are free to decide how to use the money. The DH recommends that students use the money to help cover tuition fees and/or living expenses, but each student is free to decide how to use the money they are given.

How will I know when the applications and criteria are made available?

Once the DH publishes the full details of the new bursary system it will inform the relevant universities and ask them to pass on this information to their students. The NHS BSA expects this information and the application forms to be made available before the end of May.

Is there any other support I could get if I don’t get a bursary?

Students who are refused a bursary may still be able to access money to help cover the travel costs they incur when attending their practice placements. Students should ask their university about how to assess this support.

Do you have any questions or concerns about the bursary? Join this discussion on Carespace

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