Fall in nursing degree applications confirms RCN's 'worst fears'

The number of nursing degree applicants in England has fallen by 23% in the past year, according to official figures.
UCAS application

The number of nursing degree applicants in England has fallen by 23% in the past year, according to official figures

UCAS application
Latest UCAS figures paint a bleak picture according to the RCN. Picture: Alamy

Applicants from England making at least one choice for a nursing course fell from 43,800 in January 2016 to 33,810 in January 2017, data released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reveals.

Applications from European Union (EU) students are also down by 25%.

The figures come just before bursaries for nursing students will be scrapped in August to be replaced with tuition fees and loans.

Bleak outlook

The RCN said it 'consistently warned' the government that removing the bursary would result in decreased applications.

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: 'These figures confirm our worst fears.

'The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020, it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation.

'The outlook is bleak – fewer EU nurses are coming to work in the UK following the Brexit vote, and by 2020 nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement.

'With 24,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, the government needs to take immediate action to encourage more applicants by reinstating student funding and investing in student education – the future of nursing, and the NHS, is in jeopardy.'

Largest decrease in mature students

Last week, Nursing Standard heard from a number of universities ahead of today's UCAS release, which confirmed applications were down.

In December, universities were already reporting a 20% drop in applications for nursing, midwifery and allied health courses – in some institutions, applications were down by as much as 50%, according to a survey by the vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK.

Today's UCAS figures show that the overall number of people applying to enter higher education from England are down by 6%.

The largest decreases are for older applicants from England and Wales.

But, the subject experiencing the most notable decrease in applicants is nursing.

Most applicants to nursing are above 19 years old and English applicants from this age group decreased by between 16% and 29%, while 18-year-old nursing applicants fell by 10%.

Tough recruitment environment

UCAS chief executive Mary Curnock Cook said: 'About half the fall in nursing applicants is mirroring the fall in non-nursing applicants from older age groups.

'It’s clear that the tough recruitment environment for universities will continue through 2017, leading to unprecedented choice and opportunity for applicants.

'Although the January deadline has passed, it is not too late to apply and we would expect around another 100,000 people to apply to higher education through the remainder of this cycle.'

The government said replacing the bursary would result in thousands of additional training places, and provide students with around 25% more financial support.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'Student contributions to university costs have changed on three previous occasions, and every time there has been an immediate dip in application rates followed by a steady rise.

'We are confident nursing courses will follow a similar trend and are certain we will have all the student nurses the NHS needs by September.'

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