A cocktail of spiralling levels of debt for dental students, uncertainty about the financial support available to them, and concerns about changing career pathways, could conspire to dissuade capable young candidates from applying for careers in dentistry, a new British Dental Association (BDA) report warns.
Student Futures warns that significant levels of debt, potentially as much as £60,000, could have a psychological effect on potential candidates, deterring those who feel unable to take on such a financial burden from applying for places at dental schools. These concerns could be exacerbated, the report warns, by other changes that make the cost of studying a dental degree difficult to assess, including likely increases to tuition fees to £9,000 as a result of 2011 Government reforms and continued uncertainty about the student bursary system. The difficulty of judgements about whether to take on uncertain levels of debt is further complicated, the report warns, because the shifting labour market into which dentists will graduate makes careers and future earnings more unpredictable than ever.
Dr Martin Nimmo, the Chair of the BDA’s Young Dentists and Student committees, said:
“Many dental students already incur significant debts completing their studies. The size of these debts alone may be prohibitive to some potential candidates, whose concerns about their personal finances may be deterring them from applying for dental courses. Uncertainty about funding arrangements and career prospects make decisions about whether to apply for dental courses even harder.
“If the Government is serious about its very laudable Fair Access to the Professions agenda, then it must think seriously about these issues and seek to provide certainty by finalising arrangements for NHS bursaries to ease concerns about how studies can be funded. It must also continue its pursuit of the reform to dental services in England that could help provide greater certainty about career prospects.”
Student Futures also calls for better links between schools and dental schools and more exposure to business and management training for dental students, as well as the maintenance of dental academic staffing levels to protect teaching standards.
Student Futures is the second paper in the BDA’s Futures series. The first, which considered the issues confronting dental public health, was published in 2011. Dr Nimmo has also discussed issues for student and young dentists in a recent podcast interview.