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Ongoing concern as nursing course applications reach new low

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The number of people accepted onto nursing courses in England continued to fall in 2018, despite the fact UK-wide acceptance rates hit a record high, show the latest figures on university applications.

A new report from the Universities and College Admissions Service (UCAS) shows the number of applicants from England being accepted for a place on nursing courses fell by 1.4%.

“The decline in the number of applications to nursing courses, particularly in England, is concerning”

Katerina Kolyva

This follows a drop the previous year and represents the first time ever that acceptance rates have fallen two years in a row, said the report, which suggests the decision to scrap bursaries for nursing students in England continues to have a significant impact.

This year, the number of applicants to nursing courses across the UK declined for the second year running, with a 7.6% decrease in 2018 on the back of a 17.6% drop the year before.

“This means the number of applicants has reached its lowest point, having declines by almost a quarter in the past two years, with the significant majority of this decrease being attributable to falls in the number of English domiciled applicants,” said the report.

However, the report shows the decrease in the overall number of applicants has not translated into a major drop in people gaining places with nursing courses continuing to be over-subscribed.

There were just 80 fewer acceptances this year, which puts the total number of nursing acceptances at 28,540 – the third highest on record.

Overall, the UK-wide acceptance rate increased by 4.1 percentage points to reach 56.2% in 2018. However, figures for England alone – where nearly 78% of all UK applicants are based – show acceptance rates continued to fall and were down to 21,745 in 2018.

In contrast, the number of acceptances in Scotland and Wales, which have retained funding for nursing students, increased.

In Scotland, the number of acceptances increased for the second year in a row with a rise of 4.7%, bringing the total number of acceptances to 3,375 – the highest level ever seen.

This autumn it was announced that bursaries available to nurses and midwives in Scotland were set to increase to £10,000 a year by 2020-21.

In Wales, there was a smaller increase of 3.2% bringing the total up to 1,785, while in Northern Ireland the number of acceptances remained stable at 1,090.

katerina kolyva deans health6 002

katerina kolyva deans health6 002

Katerina Kolyva

The Council of Deans of Health – the umbrella body that represents universities providing nursing, midwifery and allied health professional courses – said it was concerned about the decline in applications to nursing courses – especially in England.

Responding to the report, executive director Katerina Kolyva said it showed the need for “urgent” steps to boost student numbers.

“The decline in the number of applications to nursing courses, particularly in England, is concerning,” she said.

“It shows the urgent need for intervention to support a growth in student numbers, including sustained campaigning at a national level to attract students from all ages to healthcare courses, promoting the value of healthcare careers and countering the many negative messages around these professions,” he warned.

Last month, new health minister Stephen Hammond indicated the government may be willing to consider reintroducing bursaries or a new system of grants in England.

“We believe the introduction of a maintenance grant could have a significant impact on both recruitment and retention, particularly among mature students,” said Ms Kolyva.

“Recruitment could be further encouraged by the introduction of a loan repayment scheme linked to service,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Kolyva welcomed the increase in acceptances to nursing course in Scotland and Wales.

“We are pleased to see that acceptances to nursing courses in Scotland and Wales have increased significantly and welcome the recent announcement in Scotland of an increase in the bursary for nursing and midwifery students,” she said.

She added: “We look forward to continuing to work with government in both Scotland and Wales to support the growth in student numbers across the healthcare professions.”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • The headline and thrust of this article suggests that England can't attract undergraduate (trainee) nurses, yet in the same article, I read:

    "..However, the report shows the decrease in the overall number of applicants has not translated into a major drop in people gaining places with nursing courses continuing to be over-subscribed
    There were just 80 fewer acceptances this year, which puts the total number of nursing acceptances at 28,540 – the third highest on record...."

    Well, I'm confused! Are the training places being filled, or not? ..and the last time I looked, nurses who train in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have never been prevented from working in England. Many Nurses can, and do move around; and msybe there'd be greater mobility if there were more respectful career incentives, terms and conditions.

    Government need to think more flexibly about how and where they invest our precious money supply.

    Maybe the problem is more to do with University's maintaining their income, rather than educating folk who want to be Nurses. ....and maybe, in terms of folk going into Nurse Training we should consider the numbers who Graduate, Register, remain on the Register, and build long term and fulfilling careers, working succesfully in our UK Health Services, hrlping people who are ill and working to promote better help.

    Let's not get worked up and distracted by a Numbers game; rather, lets focus, more fundamentally, on how we are more truly to match the right help sustainably, with the variety of need.

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