The NHS is heralded as Blair's saviour

May 17, 2002

How will the government widen participation and what are the implications?

The National Health Service could be the salvation for universities struggling to meet prime minister Tony Blair's widening participation targets.

A strategic alliance for health and social care from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the Department of Health makes widening participation a key commitment.

The alliance, which covers teaching and research as well as social care for the first time, includes the NHS in the Partnerships for Progression initiative - a joint set of proposals from the Learning and Skills Council and Hefce designed to meet the government's target of half of 18 to 30-year-olds benefiting from higher education by 2010.

The alliance says that Hefce and the DoH "will work together to identify opportunities to contribute to this aim, for example through NHS Workforce Development Confederations".

One in ten of the working population works in the NHS. The University of the NHS, due to be up and running by next year, could have up to 1 million students.

Sir Howard Newby, Hefce chief executive, said: "The NHS could be considered as a local partner by universities and colleges seeking to develop progression routes for disadvantaged people."

The alliance also says that the e-University could provide a means of delivering the NHS-U's higher education programmes.

Sir Howard said: "The NHS-U and the e-University are looking at sharing the same technology platform."

The alliance makes a commitment to developing joint appraisal, disciplinary and reporting arrangements for staff working at the NHS-higher education interface and to sharing information on research funding.

And it says: "The wider use of funding in support of (student) placements will be examined as part of the review of the multi-professional education and training levy."

* Sir Howard Newby told academic nursing leaders this week that Hefce and the DoH hoped to establish a seven-year targeted funding stream for nursing and allied health professions after the summer spending round.

But, speaking at the annual retreat of the council of deans of nursing, he also said that in the short term any extra money would have to come from within existing funding streams.

A joint Hefce-DoH circular issued this week says that a committee will be set up to advise on how to distribute the funds.

Janet Finch, vice-chancellor of Keele University and Universities UK spokesperson on health issues, will chair the committee.

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