Students who have won a place on an oversubscribed dentistry degree in England are being offered £10,000 to transfer to a different university with places available.
But universities warn cash incentives won’t relieve the pressure on many dental courses.
Like medicine, dental schools have been hit by the double whammy of a huge increase in demand for places, and far more students than expected achieving the high A-level grades needed to secure their offer. This year 28,690 students applied to study medicine and dentistry, a rise of 21% on last year, according to figures from university admissions service Ucas.
The vice-chancellor of one elite university, who asked not to be named, told the Observer: “We are oversubscribed in dentistry. It is a problem that is going to be difficult to resolve across the country, because there just aren’t lots of spare clinical training places available for students. There is real pressure because so many dental surgeries are going bust.”
Dentistry students have been invited to join the Department for Education’s new “brokerage” scheme, under which medicine and dentistry students can claim £10,000 compensation if they move from an oversubscribed institution to one with space.
The Dental Schools Council said the scheme was working well, but dental academics said they expected a very limited supply of spare places.
Andrew Hargreaves, co-founder of dataHE, a consultancy which advises universities on admissions, agreed: “Medical subjects are always incredibly popular and very selective, and this year lots more people met the requirements. One real problem is it takes time to plan for extra training placements.”
Last week education secretary Gavin Williamson was forced to announce last-minute funding for hundreds of extra places in medicine and dentistry, which both have their numbers capped by the government, in an attempt to resolve the recruitment crisis. But despite the excess demand only a handful of dental schools are thought to have taken extra places.
Queen Mary University of London has agreed extra funding so it can take everyone who met their offer. However, Professor Paul Coulthard, dean for dentistry, said: “When we receive the funding for the extra places we can take on more staff, but the challenge for all dental schools will be scaling up clinical teaching facilities, such as the number of dental chairs in partner hospitals, particularly as we still cannot work to capacity of space or pace because of Covid restrictions.”
Coulthard said dental schools had struggled to give students the experience of carrying out procedures on patients, which they needed to do to graduate, because dentistry practice had been so limited during the pandemic. Academics have worked Saturdays and evenings to run extra clinical skills sessions and clinics. He said: “This meant students could catch up with much-needed clinical experience so they are ready to take up training posts this September. But of course the staff are exhausted now.”