New Brunswick

Cuts to nursing programs 'a step backward' during nurse shortage, universities say

The provincial government has cut $8.7 million in funding to nursing programs at the University of New Brunswick and the University of Moncton.

Government says it won't 'throw away' money on student seats that nursing programs failed to create

The province says the money it cut for two universities wasn't being used for its intended purpose, which was to expand enrolment in nursing programs. (Shutterstock)

The provincial government has cut $8.7 million in funding for nursing programs at a time when New Brunswick is suffering a shortage of nurses.

The cuts will hurt the ability of universities to deliver clinical training and build their programs, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Moncton said in a joint news release Friday.

"We're all going to take a few steps back," said George MacLean, vice-president academic at UNB.

Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, has said the reason for cancelling the funding is the programs weren't creating new seats for students. 

"Spending money on a program that isn't even filling the seats and isn't delivering nurses to our system is just not sustainable and shouldn't happen," Holder said Wednesday.

An email statement from Holder's office Friday said most of the money was to go toward adding more places for students who want to study nursing.

However, UNB and University of Moncton said a major portion of the funding was for covering the cost of clinical training for all students in nursing programs. Clinicals are the most expensive cost of any program UNB offers, MacLean said.

We will have less money to be able to put into nursing overall, and we'll probably have to reduce the number of nursing students.- George MacLean , vice-president academic

"That funding was used every year to be able to supplement those additional costs to keep those students in the clinical programs," said MacLean.

Targets for program growth were set by the provincial government but have not been met by the universities because of a a shortage of places for existing nursing students to do their clinical training, among other factors, he said.

The funding agreement stipulates that a portion of the money will have to be returned to government if those new seat targets are not met. The release from the two universities said neither institution has been able to benefit fully from this portion of the funding.

Could hurt student numbers

MacLean said the funding cut will have serious repercussions on what the universities can do with current students and how many students they can bring in.

"The real repercussions here are that because we will need to be moving more money out of our operational budget into the clinical expenses, we will have less money to be able to put into nursing overall, and we'll probably have to reduce the number of nursing students," he said.

MacLean said UNB was working on a funding formula to allow incremental growth and cover the expense of clinical training.

Program always full

The university had a waiting list and was at full capacity every year, he said.

He said the universities offered their plan to the province in January and haven't yet received a reply.

Holder said the government will implement a "nursing human resources strategy" with a budget of $2.4 million. Any future funding to nursing programs will be tied to the strategy to ensure the results address the nursing shortage.

MacLean said the universities have asked Holder's office for a meeting with the minister this week but have yet to receive a reply.

With files from Harry Forestell

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