Student nurses face tougher tests for course places
Will higher academic entry requirements for nursing degree courses result in better care in the years to come?
Almost two thirds of institutions offering nursing degrees are increasing their entry requirements in the face of unprecedented demand for places, a Nursing Times investigation can reveal.
The survey of higher education institutions also found huge variation in the grades universities demand from prospective nurses and in the amount of time students spend on placement.
Entry requirements for nursing degrees ranged from 80 University College Admissions Service (UCAS) points, equivalent to one C grade at A-level, to 320, equivalent to an A and two Bs. Time on placement meanwhile ranges from 53 weeks to 85 weeks over a three year degree.
Of the 54 universities who responded to Nursing Times’ request for information about their three year undergraduate adult nursing programme, 62 per cent revealed they had increased entry requirements or were considering doing so, mainly due to high demand.
Gill Robertson, student advisor at the Royal College of Nursing, said it was likely the “social economic climate” was driving interest in nursing courses as people looked for a more secure career.
She said degree level education was essential due to the increasing demand for analytical and decision making skills among nurses.
“People who can’t meet that requirement can still care as associate practitioners or healthcare assistants… you have to have academic ability [to be a registered nurse].”
However, Dave Munday, lead professional officer at Unite, said he was concerned that some people who had the potential to become excellent nurses could be excluded by rising entry requirements.
The investigation found universities were asking for an average of 235 UCAS points for their next intake, equivalent to three Cs at A-level, with many also specifying one of the subjects was a science. In the past nursing diploma courses, which will be phased out by 2013 when the profession becomes degree only, have been open to applicants with five GCSEs at grade C or above, in line with the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s minimum requirements.
Director of policy at the Council of Deans of Health Matthew Hamilton said institutions would still take into account other relevant experience and entry on to degree level courses would be possible through foundation courses or other A-level equivalents.
He said: “We’ve got to welcome and celebrate the fact we’ve got more people wanting to be nurses than ever before.”
However, many universities are receiving up to 10 applicants for every place.
From next year applicants to the heavily oversubscribed Florence Nightingale School of Nursing at Kings College London must have 320 UCAS points, making it the toughest course to get on to academically in the UK. However, school head Professor Anne Marie Rafferty said grades alone would not guarantee a place if the student did not perform well at interview or pass numeracy or literacy tests.
Ms Rafferty said increasing entry requirements were a “positive trend” for the profession where increasing acuity, complexity and dependency of patients meant there was a need for a “highly educated workforce” but differing entry requirements created courses that catered for “different parts of the labour market”.
Just over a tenth of courses asked for more than 300 UCAS points, while just six asked for less than 200. The latter tended to be courses, such as those at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen and Nottingham University, where students could go on to complete a degree or a diploma depending on their performance during the first year.
A spokeswoman for the NMC, which accredits all nursing courses, said there were no plans to stipulate minimum UCAS points for entry on to nursing courses once the profession became degree only.
She added: “As we move towards the degree-only education system it will remain important that higher education institutions have the flexibility to be innovative in the development of curricular and be able to respond and adapt to constantly changing health care environments.”