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University applicants for nursing courses remain down by 23% at final deadline

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The number of people in England applying to train as a nurse at university continues to be down by 23% this year after the removal of bursaries, according to the latest official data marking the end of the main application period.

The same level of reduction for courses starting from this autumn was noted earlier in 2017, following the first two deadlines for applications.

Figures released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that, by the final deadline of 30 June, 40,060 people in England included nursing as at least one of their course choices.

“How these trends translate into students at university and colleges will become clear over the next six weeks”

Mark Corver

This was down from 51,840 English applicants at the same point last year. Any further applications to nursing will now be processed through clearing.

Today’s data shows the number of applicants to nursing degrees is also lower in other parts of the UK, though by not as much.

Nurse applicant numbers have dropped by 10% in Wales, by 6% in Northern Ireland and by 2% in Scotland. More strikingly, European Union applicants to UK courses reduced by 24%.

“The nursing shortage will get even worse unless ministers support people into training and scrap the cap on pay”

Janet Davies

Overall, including all UK and EU applicants to nursing courses, there are 19% fewer people this year – down from 65,620 in 2016 to 53,010 in 2017.

In particular, the number of mature students in England applying to nursing has plummeted, the UCAS figures reveal.

Around 28% fewer people aged 25 years or older applied to nursing this year, compared with 2016 – reducing from 24,260 to 17,370 this year. The number of applicants aged 21 to 24 also reduced by 27%.

In Wales – where the bursary has been retained but nurses are required to pay back the funding if they fail to work for at least two years in the country after graduating – there was also a decline in the number of older applicants.

The number of people aged 21 to 24 who applied to nursing is down by 23% from, 710 in 2016 to 550 this year.

There were also fewer male applicants, particularly from England – which saw a 30% drop, compared to a 22% decline in the number of female applicants.

“With the main application period at an end, the total numbers of people applying are down 25,000 on last year, around 4%,” said Mark Corver, UCAS director of analysis and research, referring to applications for all subjects.

“How these trends translate into students at university and colleges will become clear over the next six weeks as applicants get their results and secure their places, and new applicants apply direct to UCAS’s clearing process,” he said.

The Royal College of Nursing said that, although the government wanted to increase nursing places by removing bursaries, the figures showed student interest in nursing had fallen “dramatically”.

It also highlighted the recent fall in the number of nurses registered to work in the UK and reiterated its estimation that England alone faced a current shortfall of 40,000 nurses.

“The low pay in the profession – kept below inflation by the 1% cap – means most students will never earn enough to repay the large loans. The move makes university seem out of reach for too many potential nurses at a time when they are needed most,” said RCN chief executive and general secretary Janet Davies.

“Mature students with much-valued life experience are often drawn to the parts of the NHS that find it hardest to recruit. Their loss is extremely concerning and will be felt in mental health and learning disability nursing in particular,” she added.

“The decline in mature student applicants is an area of concern and one that will need particular focus to ensure a recovery in applications”

Katerina Kolyva

Ms Davies also said the decline in EU applicants showed the impact of the government’s failure to guarantee the rights of European staff following Brexit.

“The nursing shortage will get even worse unless ministers support people into training and scrap the cap on pay to keep experienced staff,” she said.

The Council of Deans of Health, which represents university nursing departments across the UK, reiterated that it always expected a decline in applications in England this year due to the move from bursaries to loans for students, as well as the introduction of new roles such as nursing associates.

But its executive director Katerina Kolyva added: “The decline in mature student applicants is an area of concern and one that will need particular focus to ensure a recovery in applications in future years.

“This, coupled with the reduction of nurses and midwives on the NMC register and a significant fall in EU migration, means that a campaign to promote healthcare professions as rewarding careers with high employability and value to the public is now vital,” she said.

She also called for the government to clarify funding arrangements for student nurse placements. Previously universities have warned the government’s expected growth in course places would not be achieved unless more money was available to pay for placements.

However, no extra money has been made available for placements this year. A government review of how placement funding will work from 2018 onwards was expected last year but is still due to be published.

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Readers' comments (2)

  • I'm a mature student and have applied to Kingston University for Adult Nursing this year. I'm having trouble with my fee status because will took a gap 'year' trip (9 months travelling Latin America) within the last 3 years. I have the grades, interview pass and everything else.. it's like they're looking to lower entry numbers! This is my dream, dammit!

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  • karen Webb

    Everybody here has a vested interest. Council of Deans are a group of people who last practised years ago and whose job is to maximise income for their institutions - through research and contracts.
    I pay my registration to the NMC but they aren't there for me at all - they protect the public from us!
    The unions don't want to rock the boat because relationships last longer than a single issue dispute or because nurses are only a tiny and better paid fraction of their total membership.
    We are on our own, treading water while they pour more **** into it. I would never want my kids to be nurses

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