Enrolling lowly graded hurts all

September 8, 2006

Magnus Johnson wrote last week about allowing students with low grades into university (Letters, September 1). Nowhere is this more common, nor more problematic, than in nursing. Across the country, nursing students are allowed to enrol in universities with only five GCSE passes (and they do not have to be at high levels).

There are two reasons for this. First, the National Health Service, which funds most nursing education, has a "bums on seats" policy that aims to provide as many staff as possible for its hospitals. Second, widening participation, although a laudable policy, is seriously flawed. For it to work properly, students from non-traditional backgrounds need at least a year of preparation for academic study before they launch into the rigours of their courses. The NHS funding makes no allowance for this.

The results are catastrophic. Nursing students who enter with A levels are poorly served by classes that are dumbed down to accommodate less able students, where debate, critical thinking and curiosity cannot be included.

Less-qualified students who enter under these conditions are being patronised and set up to fail in the real world, as they are denied the necessary assistance to allow them to achieve at a legitimate academic level. Nursing as a profession is suffering from the continual abnegation of its responsibility to educate nurses to the highest standards.

Finally, the British people are being disadvantaged, as they cannot expect the same level of health care that is available in countries where nurses are educated to high standards.

A small number of UK universities has been able to maintain high standards for nursing courses. It is sad that others are so dependent on the vagaries of NHS funding that they are unable to do the same.

Linda Shields
Professor of nursing and director of research, faculty of health and social care, Hull University

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