Applications to nursing, midwifery and allied health professional courses in England starting next autumn have fallen following the government’s removal of bursaries and switch to a loans system, universities have said.
There has been a 20% overall reduction in applications compared with the same time last year, although universities have been keen to stress this will vary across the country and that some regions are faring worse than others.
“A dip might well not affect the eventual student numbers”
Shortfalls in applications were worse in London and the South East, and among mature candidates, according to a report in The Times newspaper, published on Saturday.
Concerns were also raised about courses that have traditionally struggled more than others to recruit students, such as learning disability nursing courses.
Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, surveyed its members this month and found applications had reduced by a fifth. It stressed that it was important to remind applicants of the career opportunities available in nursing.
However, due to the large numbers of people that usually apply to study nursing, it may not ultimately mean that fewer student nurses are accepted onto courses this year.
The Council of Deans of Health, which represents nursing, midwifery and AHP faculties across the country, said that it would “fully expect” a dip in the short term following the funding change, but that applications should return to usual levels in future years.
Dr Katerina Kolyva, executive director of the Council of Deans of Health, said: “Although some institutions are reporting reductions in the number of applications for some courses, the picture is varied across England.
Nursing and Midwifery Council
“We would fully expect to see a dip in the short-term, as with other university funding changes, but then pick up in future years,” she said.
“If a course has historically had a large number of applications, a dip might well not affect the eventual student numbers, although it’s obviously more of a concern where courses have struggled in the past to recruit students such as some podiatry or learning disability nursing courses,” she said.
Dr Kolyva added that there was a dip in applications across the whole of the higher education sector at present.
The government has claimed that its policy to remove bursaries in England and replace them with a system of loans would provide an extra 10,000 training places by 2020, as universities would not be constrained by the size of bursary budgets.
But current student nurses and unions have argued the opposite, with a series of campaigns and peitions gaining strong support earlier this year. Governments in the rest of the UK have confimed that students will continue to receive bursaries in the short term.
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The Council of Deans said it was working closely with the Department of Health to ensure students were receiving “clear and accurate” information about both the new funding arrangements and the benefits of pursuing a career in nursing, midwifery or one of the allied health professions.
Commenting on the concerns about a drop in applications, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “Two thirds of people that currently apply to university to become a nurse are not offered a place.
“It is too early in the application process to predict reliable trends for next year but we are committed to increasing the number of training places for home-grown nurses, as well as making sure there are more routes into nursing including through apprenticeships,” she said.
Jon Skewes, director for policy, employment relations and communications at the Royal College of Midwives, said it had spent the past 12 months warning the government of the potential impact removing the student bursary would have on application numbers.
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“Sadly we can now see the effect we warned of and it is appalling that some higher education institutes in England are reporting receiving 50% less applications for midwifery and nursing degrees than this time last year,” he said.
Mr Skewes said unions had warned that the policy to axe the bursary was a “wreckless decision” and “unfortunately the research from Universities UK now confirms our worst fears”.
He added: “Many potentially great future midwives have no doubt been deterred due to the financial costs now involved in becoming a midwife or a nurse. We already know that many people who train to become midwives are those who already have a first degree and women with children and other financial commitments already make up a large proportion of our current midwifery student base.”