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Mind the funding gap

Cuts to higher education funding present an additional challenge to the future health of the profession, says Dr Judith Lane

As deadlines for university applications loom close, many applicants will be taking their first step towards a long-cherished dream of a career in physiotherapy.

However, at a time when the purse strings are ever-tightening on higher education funding, the potential impact on the future of physiotherapy education cannot be ignored.

The increase in UK-wide applications for physiotherapy courses increased by nearly 20 per cent in 2010. However, since 2005 England alone has seen a 30 per cent reduction in the number of places available on physiotherapy programmes.  

A recent report from the Centre for Workforce Intelligence highlights concerns about these reductions and indicates that the NHS could see a national shortage of physiotherapists. To avoid this, the capacity for training places must, at least, remain stable.

If SHAs continue to commission and fund university-level healthcare training in England and Wales, it seems highly unlikely they will match the level of fees for undergraduate programmes proposed by the coalition government.

This raises the question of whether universities will still see healthcare courses as sustainable. Some universities may remove healthcare courses from their portfolio while others may try to charge ‘top-up’ fees.

Courses that still attract an NHS bursary may become much more popular if they are seen as a way of obtaining a funded university education.

Either way, it seems competition for places will get tougher. Could physiotherapy become accessible only by a privileged few?

It’s clear these funding pressures present a considerable challenge to future of the profession.

Dr Judith Lane is a lecturer and programme leader in physiotherapy at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

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