Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Research in brief

Barriers to a nursing vocation

  • Comment

Vocational students who want to pursue a career in nursing need more support

Lofty F (2011) Barriers to a nursing educaton. Nursing Times; 107: online issue.

Keywords: Health and social care, Higher education, Vocational studies

  • This article has been double-blind peer reviewed

In this article…

  • What influences students to take up courses in health and social care
  • Challenges vocational students face to access higher education
  • How nurses can support these students

Aimhigher Sussex was part of a national scheme to encourage people from under-represented groups in higher education to consider applying to university. The organisation worked mainly with young people aged 13-30 who might not otherwise consider higher education, especially those who have no family experience of university. The coalition government ceased to fund Aimhigher in July 2011.

A recent report by the organisation looked at factors that influenced students to take up courses in health and social care (Aimhigher Sussex, 2010). Over 450 students from economically deprived back-grounds were surveyed by online questionnaire to find out what information they needed and what they actually received. They were also asked about the knowledge they had gained about their intended careers.


Students studying A-levels and foundation diplomas expected to go on to university and received tailored advice about access to university, including help with personal statements and extra teaching sessions. This is important, given that entry to the nursing profession will soon require a nursing degree.

However, vocational students in health and social care were routinely excluded from these sessions, and many did not know that nursing was now a graduate profession or what qualifications were required, even though this was the area of work they had chosen to study.

As a result of this exclusion, young people who spend many hours in class and even more on assignments will be lost to the nursing and to midwifery professions, which need their commitment.

Students in health and social care vocational studies were also significantly more disadvantaged than other vocational students, with 32% coming from the lowest economic postcode areas, as against 12% from other students in the sample.

Our findings indicated that vocational students got a raw deal in opportunities and careers advice, which can harm their self-esteem. Dedicated teaching staff fight to give them the chances they work for and deserve, but they do not always have the extra resources to bridge the gap between those on vocational courses and traditional A-level students.

With reduced funding, universities are unlikely to have staff able to take time to encourage this cohort. Visits have previously often been funded and arranged by Aimhigher and by university recruitment resources, which are stretched to the limit. However, the recent closure of Aimhigher will mean an end to this support. Understandably, universities will not direct much of the funding for new access agreements towards courses that already attract large numbers of students- such as nursing and midwifery.

Our research looked at the challenges facing students and found that finance was a major barrier to progression and that it could potentially kill students’ aspirations to go on to higher education. Much more needs to be done to foster their ambitions.

While there are excellent materials produced by local authorities and government websites about the costs of university courses, little is available about the financial circumstances surrounding the pay-back or the increased income potential and job satisfaction.


Nurses, recruitment staff and training professionals can help to support students by contacting vocational course providers and encouraging their university contacts to recruit from a wider field than just A-level students.

We also need a change in attitude among teachers, lecturers, universities and the professions to ensure students taking BTEC and other vocational courses are given the opportunities they deserve and that these young people achieve their full potential.

Fay Lofty is curriculum delivery manager, health and social care, languages, student voice lead, Aimhigher Sussex


  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.

Related Jobs