Date Published: 13 January 2009
Student debt presents biggest challenge to increasing social mobility in medicine
Rising levels of medical student debt could derail government plans to increase social mobility in medicine, the BMA said today (Tuesday, 13th January 2009).
Responding to the publication of the government’s “The New Opportunities White Paper”, medical student leaders warn that despite some positive proposals, ministers must make alleviating the soaring debt levels faced by students their priority if they wish to enhance social mobility into the medical profession.
Louise McMenemy, a member of the BMA’s medical students committee and lead on widening participation in medicine, said;
"The White Paper contains a number of positive proposals. Enhancing support to child development schemes and increasing the number of Professional and Development Loans are encouraging announcements. The establishment of a specific Panel to examine access to the professions is also a good step forward.
However, the spectre of debt hangs over the government’s entire social mobility agenda. At present medical graduates leave university with £21,000 worth of debt on average, a figure that could rise as high as £37,0001 in the next few years now that variable top up fees have been introduced.
Students are already relying on their parents, credit cards, overdrafts and loans to get them through university, despite many holding down part-time jobs.
In view of this worrying situation the BMA remains concerned that talented individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds will either be discouraged or simply unable to pursue a career in medicine because of the spiralling debt burden. This would represent a terrible loss to the NHS and to patients, as well as to the individuals themselves.
While today’s measures contain some notes of optimism, the government and the recently established Panel on Access to the Professions must ensure that it tackles this mounting debt problem as a matter of priority. Increasing bursary opportunities to less well off students, simplifying the application system for financial support and maintaining the cap on tuition fees are three important first steps.
If the government fails to lift the debt burden bearing down on medical students its social mobility agenda will fail.”
Source: British Medical Association.