Nurses welcome ‘critical’ $128 million funding boost for tertiary education

July 18, 2023

Nurse educators are welcoming a $128-million funding boost for tertiary education, saying it is is “critical” to maintaining a highly skilled nursing workforce and improving patient outcomes.

Minister of Education Jan Tinetti recently announced an extra $128 million over two years for courses at degree level in the face of falling tertiary enrolments and fears of mass staff cuts at some universities.

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Jan Tinetti

She said it would “help maintain the quality and breadth of higher education offerings and research capacity in our tertiary institutions”. This was “vital for our students, our tertiary workforce, our broader research system, and for economic and social wellbeing in New Zealand”.

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Welcoming the news, Tōpūtanga Tapuhi Kaitiaki o Aotearoa — NZNO nursing research section (NRS) chair Kerri-Ann Hughes said it was crucial for patients that nurses were supported to underpin their training and practice with research.

“Supporting nurses with research and evidence-based practice courses, both professionally and clinically, is critical in nursing education — and fundamental to achieving effective patient health outcomes”, Hughes told Kaitiaki Nursing New Zealand.

‘Advanced education creates clear pathways for nurses to gain knowledge and skill and be valued for their significant contribution to health outcomes in Aotearoa.’

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Kerri-Ann Hughes

It was also important for registered nurses (RNs) working in education, as well as clinical settings, to draw on evidence-based research to mentor and teach student nurses, said Hughes, a senior nursing lecturer at Massey University.

NRS member Ebony Komene (Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Pikiao, Ngāti Whakaue, Tapuika) said tertiary education was “one part” of the picture to enable Māori and Pacific nurses to deliver “innovative models of care that are responsive to the needs of whānau and their communities”.

A culturally, as well as clinically, competent health workforce was critical to achieving more equitable health outcomes, said Komene, a teaching fellow at the University of Auckland’s school of nursing.

Ebony Komene

She hoped the tertiary funding would support clinical, leadership, and research skills “as part of building and strengthening the capacity and capability of our Māori and Pacific nursing workforce”.

The College of Nurses Aotearoa also welcomed the tertiary funding, which would contribute to a “strong and sustainable” nursing workforce, executive director Kate Weston said.

Amid a nursing “crisis”, preserving the supply was critical, she said.

Ongoing tertiary education supported nurses to become advanced practice nurses, nurse practitioners (NPs) or researchers — all of which improved patient outcomes, as well as supporting new graduates and students with expert mentoring and preceptorship.

Kate Weston

Advanced practice nurses worked with patients with chronic long-term conditions such as diabetes, cancer, heart and respiratory — “all areas of high disease burden where considerable inequity exists, especially for Māori and Pasifika people”, Weston said.

NPs were able to complete a wide range of clinical assessments and diagnoses and develop treatment plans, including for acute or long-term conditions.

“Advanced education creates clear pathways for nurses to gain knowledge and skill and be valued for their significant contribution to health outcomes in Aotearoa,” Weston said.

The funding was “timely”,  Weston said, as New Zealand marks 50 years since nursing moved out of hospitals and into tertiary education.

It also comes as at least three universities — Victoria, Massey and Otago — are considering staffing cuts in the face of falling enrolments, including to health and nursing staff.

Tinetti said the latest funding would go to all degree-providers as many were facing declining enrolments, not just those which have signalled cuts.

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Victoria University school of nursing and midwifery is facing the potential loss of a quarter — 26 per cent — of its academic nursing and midwifery staff, staff have told Kaitiaki. Massey University has also signalled potential job losses of 300-400. Tertiary Education Union (TEU) organiser Ben Schmidt said at this stage Massey had asked for “voluntary enhanced cessation” — voluntary redundancy — of  15 to 20 positions from its school of health which included nursing.

The Government has also this month promised a 10 per cent boost to nursing student numbers, with an extra 130 places next semester and a further 700 from 2024. The move is part of a national health workforce plan announced by Minister of Health Ayesha Verrall to address a “confronting” shortage of an estimated-8000 health-care staff, including 4800 nurses.