Student nurses are more likely to drop out either before their course starts or following graduation than at other points during their training, early findings from a national study have indicated.
The research has so far found students are also more likely to leave if there is a “lack of commitment” between them, universities and trusts providing placements.
“We are losing students even before they are started on their programmes. There is also quite a drop-off at the point at which they qualify”
People chose not to start training despite gaining a place on a course because they sometimes felt the university was “not interested in them”, according to workforce planning body Health Education England, which is leading the research.
They said universities that maintained contact with students after offering them a place had better retention rates.
Universities with buddying systems – in which third years students are paired up with first year trainees to provide support – and where mentors and lecturers deliver training in eachother’s settings also have improved retention rates.
The two-year study, called Reducing Pre Registration Attrition and Improving Retention (REPAIR), is looking at the experiences of nursing, midwifery and therapeutic radiography students from the point they apply up until the end of their first year in practice.
It will collect data on attrition rates from more than 50 universities for the cohort of students that completed training in the academic year 2013-14.
Meanwhile, interviews with students, lecturers and placement providers this year are already being carried out to determine trends and potential reasons for poor retention.
The chair of a major assessment of nursing education and training commissioned by HEE – called the Shape of Caring review – last year called for action to tackle high national attrition rates in England, of around 20%.
John Clark, director of education and quality at HEE South of England, who is leading the REPAIR project, said this was the first time there had been a coordinated approach to driving down student attrition at a national level - despite local work having been ongoing for many years but without significant improvements.
“We are looking at attrition not just through the programme but at the point they apply, right the way through into that transition year into practice,” he said.
“The reason we’ve done that is because through some of the conversations we’ve been having already its really clear to us there are some peaks at different points in that pathway,” said Mr Clark.
“One of the peaks is between applying and getting a place and actually arriving in a university. So we are losing students even before they are started on their programmes. There is also quite a drop-off at the point at which they qualify,” he added.
“Retaining students is a shared agenda for universities, HEE, service provers and students regardless of [changes to student funding]”
Results from the data collection and full findings from the interviews will be published once the programme completes in summer 2017.
When asked by Nursing Times, Professor Clark said HEE was not including questions during interviews about how the removal of bursaries from 2017 would affect student attrition. But he said HEE was asking students about how finances had an impact on their studies.
He said the project’s steering group, which is chaired by former chief nursing officer for England Christine Beasley, had an “industrious” debate following the funding reform announcement in November about whether to continue the project.
“The group unanimously felt we should continue. The reason we felt this was that retaining students is a shared agenda for universities, HEE, service provers and students regardless of the funding.
“We recognise there are going to be implications for all stakeholders, and most likely the students, following the [bursary announcement]…If anything it is more important to make sure students get a good experience post the funding reforms,” said Professor Clark.