Health academics voice fears over NHSU takeover

October 17, 2003

Health academics are worried that the National Health Service University could drive them out of higher education.

Delegates at a health educators' conference hosted by lecturers' union Natfhe questioned whether the NHSU would be duplicating work being done in universities.

In particular, they raised concerns that although the new corporate university is supposed to be focusing on post-registration education, it might in future try to take over preregistration education.

Sandra Mills, a senior lecturer in professional studies at Thames Valley University, asked the conference: "How long before the takeover by the NHSU becomes a reality?" She added: "It appears the knife has already been stuck into higher education."

Dame Jill Macleod Clark, chair of the Council of Deans and Heads of UK University Facilities for Nursing and Health Professions, said the creation of the NHSU felt like a return to the past, with an apprenticeship-style approach to nursing education, with students and staff in the sector shut out from higher education.

She declared: "I have no intention of letting the NHSU undermine what we've achieved, often at great cost."

Natfhe national official for higher education Andy Pike told The THES that the pre-registration education market would prove a "very tempting prize" for the NHSU.

But Bob Fryer, chief executive of the NHSU, insisted that there was room for the NHSU alongside nursing, midwifery and health visiting courses in universities. "The idea that the NHSU could even begin to contemplate doing all that work itself is simply absurd," he said. "I'm absolutely clear that we're not going into pre-registration education."

Natfhe is adamant that health education should stay in the higher education sector. According to research the union presented at the conference, health academics who believe they would have been far better off financially if nurse education had stayed in hospitals are incorrect.

It shows that pay in the NHS for nurses, midwives and health visitors had risen by 38.6 per cent in the past ten years, while in the new universities it had increased by 34.5 per cent.

Mr Pike said: "The difference of 4.1 per cent over ten years is a tiny difference per annum. It certainly does not fit in with the perceptions of many health academics that salaries in the NHS have far outstripped those in academia."

But the research suggested that pay progression and career development are better in the NHS. Mr Pike explained: "It is easier to develop a career in the NHS and move through a progressive pay structure. In higher education, people get stuck at the top of their scale."

As well as reviewing pay scales Natfhe also surveyed health academics.

Overall, 85 per cent of respondents believed they would have been better off financially if they had remained in the NHS.

Pay settlements in the NHS and higher education 1992-2002

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