Big boost to social work bursary in Wales after 12-year freeze

Postgraduate bursary almost doubled and undergraduate support increased by 50%, which Welsh Government says will help more students complete courses

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Photo: Drobot Dean/Fotolia

Story updated 28 July 2022

Social work students starting courses this year will have access to significantly more generous bursaries than their predecessors, the Welsh Government has announced.

Following an 18-year freeze in its cash value, the undergraduate bursary will receive a 50% boost, from £2,500 to £3,750 a year. The postgraduate equivalent, which has been £6,640 a year since 2010, will almost double, to £12,715 per annum.

Announcing the package, worth £3.5m a year, deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan said: “It will help more people train as social workers, help them remain on and complete their course and build capacity within the system.

“By supporting our future social workers as they take their first steps into the sector, we can better recruit and retain staff in the sector.”

About student bursaries in Wales

  • As in England, there is a fixed number of bursaries awarded in Wales, currently 224.
  • They are available to people living in Wales, who are not being supported by their employer to train, studying on approved courses, registered with Social Care Wales and nominated by their course provider.
  • The bursary was introduced in 2004 and current levels of student support have been in place since 2010.
  • Unlike in England, where undergraduates awarded a bursary receive support for their second and third years only, those in Wales receive theirs for all three years, though at a much lower level (£3,750 a year from 2022-23, compared with £5,262.50 within London, and £4,862.50 outside the capital in England).
  • Open University students in Wales receive the undergraduate bursary for two years.
  • The postgraduate bursary is designed to help with both living costs and tuition fees – which are currently about £8,000 per year.
  • The new level of the postgraduate bursary (£25,430 over two years) means that recipients cannot also access a student loan, as it is above the limit for loans set by regulations (£18,430).
  • The new bursary level (£12,715) is more generous than the equivalent for master’s students in England, who receive £4,052 a year to cover fees and £3,762.50 for living costs within London, and £3,362.50 outside.
  • Bursary rates in Wales will remain at previous levels for students who started their courses in 2021-22 or before*.

The British Association of Social Workers Cymru welcomed the changes and hailed it as a victory for a group of master’s students at Cardiff University who had campaigned for improved financial support for postgraduates.

Student campaign hailed

The focus of the MASW Bursary Campaign had been the removal of a bar, introduced in 2019, on postgraduate students accessing the bursary and a student loan concurrently.

The Welsh Government removed the prohibition earlier this year. However, this change has been superseded by the increase in the bursary, with the support now available over two years for social work students (£25,430) above the total that can be accessed through a student loan (£18,430). As a result, master’s social work students receiving a bursary will not be able to access a student loan as well.

BASW Cymru’s national director, Allison Hulmes, said: “This is a much-improved financial situation for student social workers and will go some way to addressing the recruitment crisis which is creating significant challenges for achieving future stability in our social work workforce.

“I would like to thank the Cardiff MASW students for their brilliant campaign – which has no doubt been a key driver in this recent announcement – and wish them every success in their future social work careers, as they reach the point of graduation. All of you are credit to our profession in Wales.”

Improved bursary ‘key element’ of workforce development

Professional regulator Social Care Wales, which administers the bursary on behalf of the Welsh Government, also welcomed the more generous offer to students.

“We’ve provided the evidence to enable Welsh Government to increase the bursary for social work students,” said chief executive Sue Evans.

“We recognise and appreciate the invaluable work carried out by social workers across Wales and look forward to seeing more students joining the profession.”

Evans said Social Care Wales would shortly be publishing a workforce development plan for social work, identifying how best to develop and support professionals.

“Improving the bursary offer is a key element of this plan,” she added.

* Correction: The story originally said the previous bursary rates would apply to students who began courses before 2021-22, when they will apply to those who began courses in 2021-22 or before. We apologise for the error.

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