Nursing schools will be financially stretched under a government higher education reform that would reduce the cost of nursing degrees for student by 45 per cent, the peak body for nursing educators has warned.
Chair of the Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery Professor Tracey Moroney said there were fears that the reforms could compromise the quality of teaching as well as the standard of student entering the demanding bachelor of nursing.
"We don't believe we can lower any of our costs. We need to provide our students with a quality education experience. That costs a certain amount of money."
Universities currently receive $21,929 per student per year through a commonwealth contribution of $15,125 and student contribution of $6804. Under the Job-ready Graduates Package, institutions would receive a total of $20,200, leaving them with $1729 less per student.
Education Minister Dan Tehan said the government had used university data provided by the sector to Deloitte to better align the cost to students and the taxpayer of teaching a degree with the revenue a university receives to teach that degree.
Professor Moroney said work placements were the most costly aspect of running a nursing degree, with placements costing $50 to $150 per student per day. Students must have a minimum of 800 hours of work experience over three years.
Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA) President Karen Booth said while lowering fees for students was positive, it was important to attract the right kind of student to nursing courses and to ensure students were supported in a variety of work placements outside of the acute hospital setting.
"We need to be mindful that it will be quality not quantity to make sure you're attracting the right people with the right level of education into those health courses and that they're nurtured along the way and have really meaningful experiences."
Neither the Council of Deans of Nursing and Midwifery nor the APNA were consulted on the higher education reforms.
Mr Tehan said health care was projected to make the largest contribution to employment growth in the next five years, therefore it was lowering the cost to students to encourage them to go into these fields.
Professor Moroney said while there was room to grow the nursing workforce in mental health and aged care, the council did not foresee a skills shortage in nursing with a number of graduate registered nurses struggling to find work each year.
"Our message to the government is: undertake a good workforce study if you believe that there is going to be a skills shortage. You need to actually produce the evidence that acknowledges that. At the moment nothing we see indicates to us that there is going to be a skills shortage."
Third-year University of Canberra nursing student Isobel Cowell is applying for transition for work programs to begin next year, keenly aware that there will be more than 300 nursing graduates in Canberra vying for about 150 positions.
"It's a numbers game. You've got to consider that. You've got to be on the top of your game for the positions."
Miss Cowell was concerned that lowering the cost of the degree could lead to some people taking up nursing because it is a cheaper option. She was also worried about how the reforms might affect resources in nursing schools.
"In some aspects it's great to encourage more people into nursing and I suppose it makes it more accessible to a lot of people which is very exciting but it's also a bit challenging.
"I know no one ever gets into nursing for the money but we do work hard and do long hours and we are in very emotionally challenging and stressful situations and I think nurses and doctors and all the healthcare professionals deserve to be well-paid and deserve to learn in the environments that support them."