The National Health Service is offering student bursaries and providing salaried placement years for degrees, signalling a new government strategy to plug healthcare skills gaps.
The NHS is to provide financial help to students enrolled on a BSc in audiology at De Montfort University, starting in September.
The course, provided jointly with the People's College and the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, has 30 places. Some 80 people have expressed interest in applying. Successful applicants will be eligible for bursaries worth £2,500 a year and graduates can expect a starting salary of £21,000 a year.
Audrey Matthews, a senior lecturer in chemistry at De Montfort, said: "It is unusual for the NHS to fund a course to this extent. But the staff shortages are so severe that it is the way forward."
Peter Burley, director of education and training at the Health Professions Council, said: "Many nurses and other health professionals have bursaries and do not pay fees. But their placements are not salaried."
Students will do their first two years at the People's College before moving to De Montfort. They will have practice placements at the Hearing Services Centre at the Queen's Medical Centre. The Leicester Royal Infirmary and the Derby Royal Infirmary are also keen to take students on placements.
It is estimated that the NHS is short of between 300 and 400 audiologists, meaning that patients have to wait up to a year for initial consultations and making government waiting-list targets almost impossible to meet.
Gerald Armstrong-Bednall, consultant audiological scientist at the Hearing Services Centre, said: "Audiologists help bring people out of what often is a state of isolation. Older people often react to hearing difficulties by withdrawing from activities, while young people find involvement in activities such as school and society very difficult."
David Martin, director of science at the People's College, said: "The ideal candidates to the degree programme would be school and college students who have studied science A levels or vocational courses in science.
"However, other relevant life experiences, particularly adults who have completed access courses, would be ideal," he added.