Press release

Consider fee loan forgiveness for nurses ahead of the Budget, say MillionPlus and RCN

29 Feb 2024

In a joint letter to the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt MP published today (29 February), the Association for Modern Universities MillionPlus and the Royal College of Nursing have called for a model of fee loan forgiveness for nurses who practice in the public services. The letter cites modelling commissioned by MillionPlus and carried out by London Economics, estimating an initial cost to the Treasury of £235m per year, a figure which “pales in comparison to the long-term economic and social benefits.”

The letter states:

"It is our belief that there is an excessive level of risk to the future pipeline in registered nursing and that the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, of which you were proud, is at risk of appearing unviable or irrelevant.”

"The critical shortfall of nursing staff poses a significant threat to the NHS’ ability to navigate forthcoming challenges.”

The letter goes on to outline the scale of the issue before identifying a root cause of the problem:

"To fulfil the ambitious goals outlined in the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, the annual intake of nursing students needs to average 29,000 between 2023 and 2031, solely to meet the NHS's staffing requirements. Universities, and in particular modern universities who train around 70% of new nurses, stand ready to meet this challenge. However, the current pipeline, represented by the 2023/24 nursing student cohort, stands at only 22,470, highlighting a significant shortfall. To further complicate matters, current recruitment efforts primarily rely on overseas professionals, posing long-term sustainability challenges for the NHS. Further compounding this critical situation, university admission figures reveal a worrying 26% decline in nursing applications over the past two years, making a bad situation worse.

"The burden of student debt coupled with real terms cuts in maintenance grants for nursing students act as significant disincentives for talented individuals to pursue this vital career path. These financial pressures are part of a vicious cycle of understaffing, ultimately jeopardising the quality of care delivered by our NHS."

Then the letter proposes a model of fee loan forgiveness to remove the financial disincentive that exists:

"To address this critical challenge, we urge you to seize the opportunity presented by the Spring Budget and invest in a loan forgiveness model for nursing graduates working in public services. This innovative solution holds the potential to attract and maintain a diverse and talented workforce. Removing financial barriers will entice more individuals to pursue a long-term career in nursing, bolstering the domestic workforce and ensuring its future resilience.

"Investing in nursing transcends mere financial considerations; it represents an investment in local people and local communities, and the immediate and enduring well-being of our society. By empowering nursing staff to deliver exceptional, personalised care, we not only reduce reliance on expensive agency staff but also cultivate a healthier, more productive population, generating ripple effects throughout society.

"Following the substantial changes in higher education fees and funding announced by the Department for Education in 2023/24, MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, commissioned London Economics to update the cost of implementation calculations, based on current 2023-24 prices. While the initial Exchequer cost of a loan forgiveness model is estimated at £235 million annually, this sum pales in comparison to the long-term economic and social benefits."

Rachel Hewitt, Chief Executive of MillionPlus, said:

“MillionPlus has long called for some type of fee loan forgiveness model for those graduates who dedicate their careers to working in the public services. This should be viewed as an innovative solution and seen as an investment in the long-term future of the NHS and in Britain’s future.”


Notes to Editors
Following the substantial changes in higher education fees and funding announced by the Department for Education in 2023/24, MillionPlus, the Association for Modern Universities, commissioned London Economics to update the cost of implementing a tuition fee loan forgiveness scheme, based on current 2023-24 prices.


  • Figures are based on the 2023-24 cohort of first-year English domiciled students starting full-time nursing degrees (22,470 total).
  • Analysis focuses on adult, children's, mental health, and learning disabilities nursing. It excludes other specialist nursing subjects targeted at registered nurses.
  • Modelling assumes tuition fee loan forgiveness for graduates working in the public sector post-graduation:
    - 50% loan balance forgiven after 5 years in the NHS.
    - 100% loan balance forgiven after 10 years in the NHS.
    - No forgiveness for graduates not working in the NHS for fewer than 5 years.

Key Findings:

  • The estimated additional Exchequer spending for loan forgiveness is £235 million annually.
  • To meet NHS Long Term Workforce Plan targets, annual student intake for nursing needs to average 29,000 (2023-31), compared to 22,470 in 2023-24 (all sectors).
  1. For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact Dan Blows on 020 3927 2916 or email
  2. Read the letter in full here
  3. MillionPlus is the Association for Modern Universities in the UK, and the voice of 21st century higher education. We champion, promote and raise awareness of the essential role and impact of modern universities in the UK’s world-leading higher education sector. More information can be found at
  4. What are modern universities? Modern universities are long established centres of higher education in their communities with roots that stretch back decades, if not centuries. Many gained university title following legislation agreed by parliament in 1992. They make up almost half of the UK university sector with over a million students studying at modern universities every year.
  5. Modern university facts and stats