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Mature nursing students: more flexible study options needed to reverse falling numbers

Study finds many students need to work part-time and have family responsibilities 

Study finds many students need to work part-time and have family responsibilities 


Juggling study and part-time work leaves many mature students exhausted. Picture: iStock

More flexible study options are needed to encourage mature students to consider a career in nursing, a new study advises.

The research, commissioned by the Office for Students, examined the recruitment of mature students to nursing, midwifery and allied health courses in England. These courses have traditionally attracted more mature students than any other subject area.

However, from 2009-10 to 2016-17 there was a 40% fall in the number of students aged 30 or over on these courses, according to the study.

Financial implications

The researchers cite the loss of the NHS student bursary in 2017 and the switch to a loans system as possible reasons for the recent decline in student numbers.

They recommend flexible learning as a way to attract mature students who have caring or financial responsibilities.

As well as analysing university application data, the study conducted interviews and ran focus groups in universities, further education colleges and NHS trusts.

In one focus group of ten nursing students, five said they undertook part-time or casual employment alongside their studies; some of these said they worked only when they could, which often meant when they could arrange childcare.

State of exhaustion

One nursing student said: ‘My first placement was in community nursing and it was Monday to Friday, nine to five. So in the evenings I was studying, because we had assignments due in.

‘On a Saturday I would have to work part-time.... so the only day off I had was the Sunday – and I was so tired, I’d just go to sleep.’


Council of Deans of Health
executive director Katerina Kolyva

Disciplines in decline

Council of Deans of Health executive director Katerina Kolyva welcomed the study’s focus on mature entrants to healthcare courses.

She said the decline in the number of mature students in recent years has had a ‘profound impact’ on some courses and left certain disciplines, such as learning disability nursing, in a precarious position.

Various strategies

‘It is clear that a multifaceted approach will be required to reverse the decline in mature student numbers,’ added Dr Kolyva.

‘The council continues to work with policymakers in the education and health sectors to increase recruitment to the healthcare professions. This includes calls for maintenance grants and annual national recruitment campaigns.’

The study echoes this call for national marketing campaigns aimed at mature learners; it also recommends provision of clearer information on financial support and the student loans system, and the use of more case studies of male students in promotional course materials.


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