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Pennyless Med Students: Medical student finance FARCE

Written by jacob matthews · Sunday 10th August 2014

There are roughly 7000 medical students graduating each year from 33 medical schools in the UK. Medical degrees take either 4, 5 or 6 years depending on the route you take.

The government via the Student Finance Company will pay for your tuition fees for the first 4 years of any undergraduate degree. After this the NHS will pay for the last year or 2 years of the undergraduate medical tuition fees.

The maintenance loan depends on family income. The figures aren’t easy to find for the background of most UK medical students but a ‘guestimate’ based on my medical school is that 50% went to a private school, 30% went to selective state schools and 20% went to a comprehensive. Of the private school kids probably about half had a scholarship or bursary. So, a rough guess would be that 70% of med students come from a “middle class” family who have a decent income but not huge wealth and are therefore eligible for a ‘maintenance loan’ above the minimum. This majority therefore rely on there loan to get through the year.

An average student income is between £1000 and £1500/term (£1200 average-ish). Most university terms are 10 weeks, hence average income is about £120/week. As a preclinical medical student this is fine and we are on par with everyone else. As soon as we become clinical med students the game changes!

Clinical years are far longer, more like 40 weeks a year rather than 30. Students are on placement, have to dress professionally and travel to placement daily. This adds additional costs and requires the money to stretch further. Doubly bad!

Once, the NHS starts paying the tuition fees, the Student Loans Company starts reducing the maintenance loan, by half! Why?

A final year student or a 4th year who has intercalated now has to survive at University for one of their course’s longest years with half the money they had previously. >40 weeks on a loan of roughly £1500/year. This situation is pretty much unique to medical students.

Some students are lucky enough to have parents who can afford the extra couple of thousand pounds required for the year. Some students get selected into the military and get a salary. A greater proportion find part time jobs to help cover the cost and the rest have to resort to saving money where they can and taking out loans.

When I was a member of the BMA medical student committee I did a project as part of the finance sub-committee investigating the loans available for medical students. Many banks used to “professional development loans” which allowed medical and law students to borrow money for a year before they had to start repaying the loan. Hardly any banks now offer this service, so the only loan available is an overdraft or a standard loan that requires you to have a regular income.

This means that final year medical students with limited family support may have to live for a year on less than £2000. Does this seem fair? Does this seem sensible government policy?

Medical students are 99% guaranteed to be earning over £25 thousand pounds within a year. We will be able to repay any loans. So why isn’t the Student Loan Company allowing us to continue having a ‘normal’ maintenance loan? And why aren’t banks giving us the benefit of the doubt and helping us out in our time of need?

When I was on the BMA MSC there was talk of having a campaign to lobby government and the banks to rectify this situation but I can’t say I’ve been aware of any such campaign. Are the NUS, BMA, UKMSA or anyone else doing anything about this?

Please do leave a comment if you do know if there has been a progress and if there hasn’t why don’t we start making a fuss about this!

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