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Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship program suspended?


Update – on 12th May 2015 when the Federal Budget was handed down the government announced that the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship program was closed to new entrants. At that time there were over 1,300 participants continuing in the scheme. Click here for details of the announcement. 

Update – on 30th October 2014 My Health Career received a confirmation from the Department of Health that the preparations for the 2015 MRBS are underway, and that details will be posted on the Department of Health website when it is finalized. Be sure to check the MRBS website around December 2014 for details of the 2015 program.

Update – as at 12th February 2014, the Department of Health updated its MRBS page, confirming that this scholarship scheme was to be run for students commending medical school in 2014.

Here is our article published on 8th February 2014:

It appears that the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship (MRBS) program may have been suspended pending a review. In January 2014, our previously published MRBS article had a new comment from a student who had been offered a Bachelor Medicine/Bachelor Surgery place at an Australian university with a MRBS for 2014:

“Thanks for a very helpful guide to the realities of accepting an MRBS. It may interest people to know that the Federal Govt has declined to continue funding new MRBS contracts from 2014, pending a review.

I was offered a MRBS place in the 2014 intake for the MBBS. The offer was made in September 2013. However I have now been advised by the university that the govt has not confirmed it will actually fund the scholarship attached to the offer (although a CSP place was guaranteed), and is conducting a review. This is quite a big deal for me, as the scholarship made the financial difference in being able to study, as I expect it has to many of the other 99 prospective recipients of the MRBS in 2014. I had also adjusted my financial, living and employment affairs on the understanding I would obtain the MRBS as offered.

I suppose the AMSA and AMA will be happy to see the end of the scheme, but I feel much aggrieved.”

So what has been happening with the MRBS?

The Review of Australian Government Health Workforce Programs (aka the Mason Review) was released in April 2013 when Australia was under federal Labor leadership and Tanya Plibersek was the Federal Minister for Health. It recommended that the MRBS should be phased out:

“As part of the review’s consultations there was detailed discussion of the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship (MRBS) scheme. Evidence is lacking that coercive schemes of this type result in longer term positive connection to rural life. The scheme is administratively expensive, relying on complicated contractual arrangements and enforcement action. This review recommends that it should be phased out and funds redirected to non-bonded scholarship schemes such as RAMUS* which is targeted at those from rural backgrounds and with demonstrated financial need.”

*RAMUS, it is a scholarship scheme to assist students from a rural background to study medicine.

In September 2013, The Grattan Institute released its report Access all areas: New solutions for GP shortages in rural Australia. According to this report, less than 5% of the scholarship recipients had commenced practice in a rural area. In this section of the report about financial incentives for rural practice, they state:

“One ‘carrot’ is the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship scheme. It provides scholarships to medical students in return for a commitment to practice in rural or remote areas for up to six years after graduation. But many students who receive this $25,000 a year scholarship later avoid practising in rural and remote areas by paying out their debt or moving overseas. Each year, a hundred students are awarded the scholarship. After more than 10 years, fewer than 50 scholarship recipients have started the service obligations they agreed to. More generally, there is insufficient evidence to show that scholarship schemes actually change people’s employment intentions.”

The MRBS page on the Department of Health website does not state that the MRBS program has been suspended pending a review, but it does not have an updated MRBS for 2014. Only a 2013 information booklet is available.

At the time of publishing this article, we had not heard back from the Department of Health as to whether the MRBS had definitely been suspended, or found any new media release on their website. The response received on 23/1/2014 was:

“The Department is waiting for confirmation about the 2014 MRBS and will be notifying the universities of any update.”

But if the Coalition government acts on the recommendations from the Mason Review and the Grattan Institute review, it is looking shaky.

Amanda – Founder My Health Career.

Update – as at 12th February 2014, the Department of Health updated its MRBS page, confirming that this scholarship scheme will be running again for students commencing medicine in 2014. It is unknown weather it will be offered for students in the 2015 cohort.

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