Explaining student numbers

Jim Fahie is excited about the rise in the number of physiotherapy students and says the CSP is working to ensure this translates into workforce expansion

Views & Opinions explaining student numbers

Demand for physio workforce is at an all time high throughout the UK, most recently articulated in the Long Term Plan for the NHS in England. 

Continuing the growth of graduate numbers is essential to meet this demand, despite an increase in physiotherapy student places of 34 per cent since 2015. 

We can’t be complacent. External factors, such as Brexit, will have an impact, and growth isn’t uniform across the UK.

There is every reason to be positive, however, with universities continuing to show interest in expanding student numbers. And physiotherapy courses are over-subscribed. 

What is essential now is to translate growth into staffing. 

Another priority is to maintain principles of quality employment, levelling up terms and conditions and using preferred employment models. 

We need growth to be sustained. Physiotherapy undergraduate training is different in all four parts of the UK. The CSP’s position is that, however undergraduate education is funded, it must provide the supply to meet demand. 

In Wales and Northern Ireland, where there are bursaries, there has been a growth in direct commissions, resulting in universities developing new physiotherapy courses. 

By contrast in England, when there was a bursary, commissioned places were in decline. The system of tuition fees has lifted the cap on places and stimulated growth.

In Scotland, where university courses are paid from student grants, supply is flat lining. This is why the CSP is making the case to the Scottish government for additional funding. 

More students has required more practice placements to match. This has happened with a wider range of physio services now recognising the value of students to them. 

But growth in graduate numbers isn’t only about money and placements. It also relies on the fact that physiotherapy is consistently popular as a career choice.  

Physiotherapy stands out against other parts of the workforce in having no problems attracting students to fill courses; of students successfully completing their studies; and once in the workforce, staying there. 

Why is this? I think there are a few reasons that may be at play. 

Physiotherapy offers divers career options, including for graduates who have other related degrees. It offers flexibility to move between roles and sectors, and to work part time for some of an individual’s career.

Support workers are a valued part of the physiotherapy workforce and their contribution strengthens the profession. 

Physiotherapy educators ensure that courses are of a consistently high standard, and are able to attract a high calibre of students.

Perhaps the most important factor, however, is the long history of autonomy and independence of physiotherapists. 

What this says to me is that, as CSP members move into more types of roles in the NHS, being loud and proud about what physiotherapy brings, and maintaining that strong identity is vital. 

  • Jim Fahie is CSP assistant director of employment relations and union services

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