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Universities warn of 20% drop in applicants for nursing courses after end of bursary


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”

Katerina Kolyva

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

Katerina Kolyva

“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.

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.

Royal College of Midwives

Unions attack ‘ill-informed’ bursary reform plans

Jon Skewes

“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.”


Readers' comments (8)

  • So here it is, the expected drop in applications of 20-25% now comung true. This is a huge drop, and a real disaster for nursing workforce planners and the whole profession. When fees were introduced for non-healthcare university courses in 2010, everyone expected a drop in applications for 2011. However, the reverse happened, applications actually increased. Now we see for Nursing the predicted disaster coming true, because Nursing courses aren't like any other degree course, the profile of students is very different.The Council of Deans (as well as the Government of course) are to blame because they lobbied heavily for the bursary cuts saying students would be better off taking out loans for up to sixty thousand pounds. The outcome will be more 'nurse associates ' aka cheap labour, less RNs and eventually, high profile care scandals exposed by the media, where poorly trained 'nurses' will be scapegoated as a result of the NHS' financial squeeze, which is cutting the quality of nursing care in order to save budgets.

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  • I couldn't agree more Kevin Corbett, it's sad

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  • Well it really is a load of old toilet....what incentive is there to be a nurse and how demoralising if you are already are one...
    Where is the RCN (very quiet with the wad they have off me each month to be a member) and the NMC who have a larger wad to protect the public from me (so they say)....lots of clippy cloppy shoes clip boards and lanyards but not a lot of actually 'saying' or doing anything...

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  • To all the comments above "SPOT ON"

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  • Anyone who takes up nursing to put it mildly is making an unwise decision to put it mildly.
    1. you will be in heavy debt
    2. you will be de-skilled and attacked by toxic managers
    3. you are forced to pay the NMC an organisation run by non clinicians who are determined to remove nurses from the register for feeble things(managers, non clinical staff and anyone who likes to make malicious complaints know this)Do you really want to spent years in training to be struck off based on the malice of others.
    4.the RCN merely wants to maintain status quo and will take the side of the complainant, NMC will be overworked and underpaid
    6. if you are physically attacked menaced or verbally abused management will twist it into being your fault (you certainly will not be supported)
    7. if you have the ability to do a degree embark on something useful which pays well in another area and rewarding to yourself.The treatment of nurses in this country is a disgrace and I regard it as the worst decision I ever made
    8 Please before entering nursing read about the nurse who committed suicide by burning himself in a London park and study NMC decisions

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  • Agree totally with the above.
    There should be a mass refusal to pay the NMC.
    A mass refusal to undertake this revalidation nonsense.
    20% reduction in uptake of students? I am surprised it is not 100%.

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  • With great sadness I have to also totally agree with ALL the previous comment.
    I qualified in the 80's still working),my mother before me was a nurse, my daughter is a nurse manager and daughter in law a senior nurse.My grandaughter who is studying A levels is considering nursing..but we are ALL advising her strongly to use her talents elsewhere.How sad is that..?
    Seventy years spanning nursing, in all it eras and never so maligned and demoralised,
    As nurse in my sixties,I shan't be re-validating this September.What have I got left to prove......

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  • 20%?! It's nothing!
    This means that, out of a 1000 applicants, there are still 800 applying for an average 120 places on a course!

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