Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Going private …

The BBC today reported what sounded a little like outrage at the news that University of Central Lancashire is offering a medical degree to overseas students only. The timing plays right into the ‘b****y foreigners coming over here getting our jobs/benefits/houses’ narrative which, unfortunately in my view, seems to have become part of the UK’s political culture. It’s worth looking in detail at what’s going on.

UCLan make the point – fairly – that they don’t have permission to recruit home students – student numbers in Medicine and Dentistry remain capped. See, for instance, this note by HEFCE explaining its role and the caps which apply at England’s medical schools. (nb that there are similar controls in the other UK nations). The devil is in the joint funding by HEFCE and the NHS.

Within the NHS there’s an element of funding – called Service Increment for Teaching (SIFT) – which covers the costs of clinical placements for medical students. These are the costs of having consultants supervise groups of trainee doctors (firms on rotations, if you want the jargon) and are allocated by the relevant medical school to the hospitals and GPs who offer clinical placements.

HEFCE and the NHS see the value in having some overseas students, and so the placement cap includes capped places for overseas students – at about 7.5% of the total cohort. This means that on funded medial programmes, there’s absolutely no crowding out of home students – medical schools simply cannot trade off home for overseas. Look again at the HEFCE note and see the number controls.

UCLan has therefore, in all likelihood, come to a separate deal with the hospitals and GP surgeries where its overseas medical students will undertake their clinical practice. The fee levels quoted suggests that UCLan won’t be making much of a financial surplus on this programme. And for the NHS trusts it gives them a little more income in what will be challenging financial times.

So the anger is misplaced. UCLan aren’t taking away chances from homes students. And if we need more UK doctors, the answer is for the government to fund them.

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