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Applicants to nursing courses fall for second year running since scrapping of student bursary


The number of people from England applying to train as a nurse has fallen for a second year in a row, dropping by a further 13% compared with the same point in 2017, official figures have shown.

This is on top of a 23% reduction last year, meaning applicants are now down by around a third since the government in England opted to end free education for student nurses and instead switch to a loans system.

“The application data also highlights continuing falls in demand from older students and to nursing courses in England”

Clare Marchant

A total of 29,390 people from England have so far applied to study nursing at university next year, compared with the 33,810 who had applied by the same point in 2017, according to a report by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

In 2016, which marked the last time people would have their university fees paid for, there were 43,800 applicants to nursing from England.

The drop in the number of older students was more stark, with a 15% decline among those aged 20-24, and a 19% decreased among those aged 25 or over.

Today’s UCAS report shows the numbers of applicants to nursing from Northern Ireland and Wales have also fallen for a second year in a row, by 6% and 2%, respectively.

In contrast, the number of people from Scotland who have applied to nursing courses has increased slightly, by 4%, despite a small drop last year. This means the country has returned to around the same number of applicants it had in 2016, of about 4,800.

UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant said: “Today’s figures show that UK higher education continues to be a highly popular choice for 18 year olds, and draws students of all ages from around the world to the UK.

“However, the application data also highlights continuing falls in demand from older students and to nursing courses in England,” she said.

“These are challenges for everyone involved in higher education to work on together. We must continually seek to evaluate what works well, and what doesn’t,” she added.

“Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse”

Janet Davies

Ms Marchant highlighted that universities were still accepting applications until 30 June.

Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Nursing is a wonderful career but the government must do more to make it attractive to the tens of thousands of new nurses we need.

“If ministers fail, they are storing up unimaginable problems for the future,” she said. “The staffing crisis must be stopped from spiralling further.”

“Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse. When it is haemorrhaging so many experienced people, this has never been more important,” she added.

Professor Brian Webster-Henderson, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “The decline in applications to nursing courses is very concerning and highlights the urgent need for a national campaign to promote the many positive aspects of healthcare careers and counter the negative messages from the recent media coverage of the pressures of working in healthcare and the shortages of nurses”.

Council of Deans

Brian Webster_Henderson

Brian Webster_Henderson

“We continue to be particularly concerned about the fall in application rates for mature students,” he said. “We have consistently identified this as something that needs close monitoring and, if necessary, targeted interventions to mitigate against this particular risk”.

“If we are to see the increase in the number of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals required to ensure that we have the workforce we need, it is vital that we see immediate action to support a growth in student numbers and a robust strategic approach to future workforce planning,” he added.

The controversial plans to axe bursaries and introduce a loans system for pre-registration student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in England were confirmed by ministers in July 2016.

As a result, from 1 August 2017, new students were given access to the standard student support package of tuition fee loans and support for living costs, instead of an NHS grant.

Removing the bursary meant course places were no longer commissioned and paid for by Health Education England, which the government claimed would allow an extra 10,000 training places to be created by 2020, because universities would no longer be restricted by the public purse.

As revealed last summer by a Nursing Times investigation, some universities have chosen to reduce the size of their nursing courses in the wake of the removal of bursaries in England. However, it remains a varied picture, with others choosing to increase course sizes.

Concerns have been raised in particular about the ongoing viability of some learning disability nursing courses and also the number of future nurses being educated for the area, with warnings from both the Council of Deans and Health Education England itself.


Readers' comments (9)

  • In 10 years, no one will apply to study nursing. Shame

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  • 10 year? I say 5 years its no longer an attractive profession

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  • Is anyone surprised? To end with £27k of debt as a minimum, very limited opportunities to subsidise income with part time jobs as other students can, undertaking a full time degree plus full time working hours including weekends and nights. I certainly wouldn't have done it!

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  • So sad but have to agree with above comments. Why on earth rack up thousands in debt only to earn less than 23,000 with all the responsibilities, pressure etc a band 5 deals with on a daily basis. Not to mention vile shift patterns, shall I go on?

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  • I'm a student nurse but once qualified I'll be looking to work abroad. I have been on placements and have seen first hand the stress nurses are under. I'm a mature student in receipt of bursary and certainly wouldn't have done it if I had to pay fees. I have worked in other public services but have never witnessed employees so undervalued and underpaid. If I can't get abroad, I will be finding alternative employment.

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  • If anyone out there knows someone who wants to take up nursing tell them DON'T
    I have talked 8 people out of the idea and I feel proud that I have saved 8 youngsters from a life of hell in a worthless career

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  • Before you start spitting even more at my beloved profession, just think how many beautiful, important and meaningful things you can do while working in a nursing home, without breaking your back or biting your nails. Being an RGN is not only about bands and waypoints, it is also a quite well paid VOCATION that can be fulfilled by public SERVICE. If you really have to use foodbanks on 22k pa, then well, keep moaning.

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  • Working in a nursing home can be extremely rewarding and worthwhile. But sadly, it depends on the home. I worked in a nursing home and left after 6 weeks. There was no activity co-ordinator; when I asked the manager if the residents went out, the answer was, no, they don't want to! The care was abysmal; residents were hoisted out of bed and left to rot in front of Jeremy Kyle. I very quickly realized that I would never be able to make a difference there due to the intransigent management. Si I went into the private sector and found I job I enjoy. I am on less money than I would be in the NHS (no unsocial hours payments for nights, weekends etc.) but I wouldn't change it to work in a stressful job whilst at the same time being disrespected and unappreciated.

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  • To the person who thinks 22K is quite well paid, think on. Other degree educated professionals in public SERVICE start on a higher salary, some after considerably less training. If you are a single parent, 22k doesn't go very far, what with rent/mortgage, heating, lighting, food, clothes, travel expenses, etc, hence food banks. Nurses have always been last when it comes to respect for the job they do in serving the public, often in highly stressed and difficult circumstances and that lack of respect is reflected in the lack of adequate fiscal remuneration. If nurses were afforded the same level of respect as doctors, teachers, lawyers etc, there wouldn't be such a disparity in pay and conditions.

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