Poorer students ‘priced out of dentistry’

Students from socio-economic backgrounds are being priced out of choosing dentistry as a career and medical professionals should be more representative of society, government has been warned.

Applications from students from lower-socio economic backgrounds made up just one in every six applications for dentistry and medicine last year.

Walsall South Labour MP Valerie Vaz said the 14% figures is a stark contrast to the 29% or 30% of students from poorer backgrounds applying for other courses.

At present, dental students are graduating with an average £25,545 of debt compared to the average student with £16,614.

The current level is already 128% up from 2000. Debts are set to soar with universities allowed to charge up to £9,000 a year for tuition fees meaning a newly qualified dentist could owe £63,000.

Ms Vaz fears even less talented people from poorer backgrounds will apply given the excessive fees.

‘We need doctors and dentists representative of all communities. It is about being able to tap into potential and should not be about students worrying about the cost. To say they will be financially secure after graduating is not enough,’ she said.

‘It must be the fees putting people off. Also more needs to be done to help teenagers from poorer backgrounds who may want a career in dentistry or medicine but did not quite make the grade.’

Martin Nimmo, the chair of the BDA’s Young Dentists and Student Committees, said the BDA had warned government taking on sizeable debts could deter potential students.

He added: ‘The BDA believes that dentistry should attract the brightest and best candidates, regardless of their social background.

‘With tuition fees for dental courses set to rise in some dental schools by up to £9,000, this is a particularly challenging period for those interested in pursuing a career in dentistry. The already significant levels of debt incurred by dental students could increase even further,
potentially reaching £60,000.

‘The situation is not helped by the lack of clarity around the student bursary reforms. The BDA has been pressing the Government for over a year to resolve the uncertainties over how this will continue to be funded. It simply isn’t acceptable that potential candidates for dentistry are being
asked to apply for courses without a full understanding of how they will finance their studies.’

Sir Christopher Edwards, chairman of the Medical Education England, previously said the class composition of the wider medical profession was so imbalanced it was ‘horrifying’.

Skills Minister David Willetts said: ‘It is important that we have true meritocracy in access to our universities, including to medical courses. I am a great admirer, for example, of a programme run at King’s College London, linked to Guy’s and St Thomas’, that provides an extra foundation
year for young people who have an aptitude for medicine but not the necessary A-levels. That is a good example of how access funding can be used to improve social mobility.’

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