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Exclusive: English universities reducing nurse training places

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Some of the universities that have chosen to reduce the size of their nursing courses in the wake of the removal of bursaries in England are revealed for the first time today by Nursing Times.

Around a third of all 55 universities in the country offering nursing courses responded to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for data by Nursing Times.

“This reduction in numbers reflects prudent financial planning in recognition of a potential temporary reduction in applications”

Professor Joanne Lymn

A total of 24 refused to provide information, largely claiming the data was commercially sensitive due to competition with rival universities, while others did not respond.

Among the 17 that offered information, six are decreasing course sizes for this coming academic year when students stop receiving bursaries. Earlier this week it was confirmed there has been a 23% reduction in applications this year.

The two with the most significant decreases in course sizes are the University of Nottingham – which is shedding 23% or 92 places this year – and Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent – which is removing 21% of its places, equal to 91 places.

Both said this was partly due to the changes to funding, which will see students for the first time pay tuition fees and have to take out loans to cover their training and living costs.

Professor Joanne Lymn, head of the school of health sciences at the University of Nottingham, said: “We are currently undergoing a review of the size and shape of the school.

“Unfortunately, to achieve this a reduction in the number of places is necessary as current levels would be unsustainable for our current facilities in Nottingham,” she told Nursing Times.

“This reduction in numbers also reflects prudent financial planning in recognition of a potential temporary reduction in applications following the loss of the bursary,” she said.

“Whilst universities can accommodate increasing student nurse numbers they are restricted by the number of placements trusts can offer”

Leeds Beckett University spokesman

A spokeswoman for Canterbury Christ Church University said the reduction was due to a change in the structure of the course and placement capacity, while the funding changes “have also required the university to take a strategic, responsible and cautious approach to ensuring the continuation of high-quality graduates into the workforce in three years’ time”.

However, there is a varied picture across the country. Two universities are keeping the same number of training places and eight are increasing their course sizes – leading to an overall small increase of 6.8% in training places among the group.

This means across the 17 universities, places are going up by 319, from 4,946 in 2016 to 4,627 this year.

But most of this rise is accounted for by increases in just two regions. Bolton University is more than doubling its cohort size, by planning an extra 158 places, and the University of Sunderland is increasing its course twofold, by bringing in an additional 130 places.

University Course places in 2016-17Course places in 2017-18
Anglia Ruskin University 489 489
Canterbury Christ Church University 427 336
Keele University 192 193
Kingston University & St George’s University of London 352 333
Leeds Beckett University 60 90
Staffordshire University 234 234
The University of Hull 331 375
University of Bolton 140 298
University Of Brighton 282 270
University of Chester 438 443
University of Derby 252 386
University Of Hertfordshire 376 368
University Of Huddersfield 202 201
University Of Leeds 268 308
University Of Liverpool 60 60
University of Nottingham 394 302
University of Sunderland 130 260

Meanwhile, 10 universities have made fewer offers to prospective nursing students than they had done at the same point last year.

Similarly, 13 universities have received fewer responses back from prospective students confirming they have accepted their offer of a place as their first choice, compared with the same time last year.

The majority of universities (10) have not yet received enough of these responses to fill the number of training places they are planning.

This is in contrast to 2016 when only five had not yet received enough responses to cover their training places by this point.

Therefore, among the 14 universities that provided comparable data, there is currently a 13% gap between the 4,149 places that have been planned and the 3,589 offers confirmed by applicants as their first choice.

The largest gap is occurring at the University of Bolton, with a shortfall of 185 between accepted offers and its number of places – though it is also the university with the biggest increase in planned places.

“The number of offers made is comparable to previous years. It is the ‘conversion rate’ that is down – ie students accepting the offer”

Leeds Beckett University spokesman

One university told Nursing Times that fewer students may be accepting offers due to being unsure whether to take out a loan and possibly stalling their decision until further details of new nurse apprenticeships were made available.

Others also said the introduction of apprenticeships part way through next academic year was expected to assist them with filling – and possible exceeding – their target course places.

“Whilst universities can accommodate increasing student nurse numbers they are restricted by the number of placements trusts can offer,” said a spokesman for Leeds Beckett University, which is planning an increase of 30 places this year – but is around 37 accepted offers short of being able to fill them so far.

“Leeds Beckett saw a decrease in adult nursing applications only,” he said. “However, the number of offers made is comparable to previous years. It is the ‘conversion rate’ that is down – ie students accepting the offer.

“The reasons for this needs analysis but it may be that students are risk averse in not wanting to take on a student loan, it may be that they are waiting to see what the new nurse degree apprenticeships have to offer, it may be that the recent media coverage in regards to the NHS has put them off,” he added.

“We are not concerned we have been too ambitious and we anticipate reaching, and possibly exceeding, the target for our total 2017 intake”

Dr Julia Gale

Despite this, the spokesman said the university remained “confident of a strong recruitment in September”.

At the nursing school run jointly by Kingston University and St George’s, University of London, there are 5% fewer spaces on courses this year (19), and the university is also 39 acceptances short of filling its courses.

Dr Julia Gale, head of the school of nursing, said it had reverted back to the same course sizes as in 2015 following an unusually higher number of commissioned places last year.

“Taking the higher-than-anticipated capacity from last year into account, we are not concerned we have been too ambitious and we anticipate reaching, and possibly exceeding, the target for our total 2017 intake.

“While we have so far received fewer applications than last year, they have been of high quality – which has already allowed us to surpass our targets for children’s nursing and mental health nursing to date,” she said.

The University of Chester, which is planning an increase of five extra places this year, but also has not so far received enough confirmed acceptances from students to fill its courses, said it was still actively recruiting for a second intake of students in March and was confident it would meet its targets.

“Following discussions with our practice partners, we anticipate that the apprenticeship route will increase the March [intake] numbers”

University of Chester spokeswoman

“Following discussions with our practice partners, we anticipate that the apprenticeship route will increase the March [intake] numbers. Overall, we are aiming for an increase in nursing places by 10%,” said a spokeswoman for the university.

At the University of Hertfordshire, which is planning to remove eight spaces on its nursing courses this year, said this reduction was due to it discontinuing some places commissioned as a one-off last year and would keep this under review.

The university has 368 places planned, but has so far had just 286 of its offers accepted as a first choice of university by prospective students.

“Any change with the provision of funding is likely to have an impact on the sector, certainly in the first year, but it is too early to say what these changes will mean,” said Jackie Kelly, dean of the university’s school of health and social work.

“We are seeing a lot of high calibre applicants with some differences across the fields of nursing. There is some concern of a drop in applications for learning disability nursing,” she added.

“We are hopeful that people we have made offers to are going to make us their first choice university”

Dr Paula Holt

At the University of Derby a 53% increase in training places has been planned on its courses – of 134 extra – but it also has a gap between its total course places (386) and the number of applicants who have accepted the offer to study as a first choice (272) so far.

“In Derbyshire alone, we have a shortfall of more than 400 nurses, and our partner trusts have struggled to fill their vacancies… We are now not only increasing the number of adult nursing students, but doubling the number of mental health nursing students,” said Dr Paula Holt, dean of the college of health and social care.

“We have made offers for our September 2017 intake and will begin making offers for March 2018 at the end of August. We are hopeful that people we have made offers to are going to make us their first choice university and meet the academic entry requirements,” she added.

Labour Party

Copy of New shadow health secretary in latest Labour reshuffle

Jonathan Ashworth

Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, responding to reports in Nursing Times that some universities are reducing the size of their nursing courses in the wake of the removal of bursaries in England, said: “The government’s decision to remove the bursaries for health degrees is a terrible misjudgment. 

“Applications for nursing degrees have fallen by 23% this year and now universities say they have not yet received enough responses from prospective students to fill the number of training places they are offering,” he said.

“The government have created a crisis in the nursing workforce which is causing chaos for patients. They should urgently revisit their decision to charge fees for health degrees before it is too late,” he added.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • Oh wait a minute didn't we hear that removing the bursaries would help the universities offer more places? How many of us believed that? No me neither!!

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  • Such a loss to the profession, all us oldies who trained as `mature students`. Under the bursary scheme.I and my colleagues had children ., many of whom were preparing their uni applications at the same time. No way could I have entertained the idea of a loan for me and my son at the time.All our life experiences and more mature outlook will be lost in the new loan burdened young nurses.

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  • This week
    Nurses are subject to a pay freeze
    NMC CEO gets a massive pay rise (paid for by our fees)
    Cardiff nurses are stung for £thousands over parking fines
    To anyone out there thinking of taking up nursing as a career
    DONT you are fools

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  • How many of those universities are now also training nursing associates ? Is there any relationship in terms of total numbers?

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  • karen Webb

    Will the last nurse out please turn off the lights? We are doomed.

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  • I start Adult Nursing in September as a mature student, I completed an Access Course and got the overall academic achievement award. Just as I did, I hear that my colleague has just got a Nursing Associate apprenticeship role, paid for by the NHS and she will take 4 years to get her band 5, no debts! My colleague didn't have the points that UCAS require! I will take 3 years and have at least £40k debts! It sounds like financial suicide to me! I really want to become a Nurse but I feel so bitter about what is happening!!

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