Fall in nursing degree applications sparks call for action

The number of nursing degree applicants to universities in the UK has fallen by 19% in the past year, according to official figures.
UCAS application

The number of nursing degree applicants to universities in the UK has fallen by 19% in the past year, sparking concern from organisations that represent nursing students

UCAS application
Picture: Alamy

The Council of Deans of Health (CoDH), which represents nursing, midwifery and allied health students, said a campaign promoting healthcare careers was now 'vital'.

Applicants who made at least one choice of a nursing course by the latest deadline fell from 65,620 in June 2016 to 53,010 in June 2017, official data released today by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reveals.

Across the four UK regions applications fell by 23% in England, 10% in Wales, 2% in Scotland and 6% in Northern Ireland, while applications from European Union (EU) students also fell by 400 (24%).

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

'Area of concern'

CoDH executive director Katerina Kolyva said: 'We anticipated a decline in nursing, midwifery and allied health professional applications this year as a result of the funding reforms in England, the introduction of apprenticeship routes into the professions and the nursing associate role.'

Dr Kolyva added that a decline in mature student applications was 'an area of concern' and would need a particular focus to ensure recovery in applications in future years.

Most applicants to nursing are above 19 years old and today's UCAS figures show applicants from England in this age group decreased by between 14% and 27%.

'This, coupled with the reduction of nurses and midwives on the Nursing and Midwifery Council register and a significant fall in EU migration, means that a campaign to promote healthcare professions as rewarding careers with high employability and value to the public is now vital,' said Dr Kolyva.

'We continue to call on the government to clarify placement funding to ensure we see the expected growth in places.'

Overseas applications

The only increase in applications to UK nursing courses has been seen in applicants from outside the EU. Last year in this group there were 480 applicants – a further reduction on 2015 – but this year the figure increased by 190 to 670 (38%).

UCAS director of analysis and research Mark Corver said total numbers of people applying to higher education were down 25,000 on last year – around 4%.

Dr Corver said while decreases were driven by falls from England, Wales and the EU, applicants from other overseas countries were up 2%.

'How these trends translate into students at university and colleges will become clear over the next six weeks as applicants get their results and secure their places, and new applicants apply direct to UCAS’ clearing process.'

RCN chief executive Janet Davies said: 'When the NHS is struggling without enough staff to provide safe care, extra effort is needed to bring more nursing staff through training. Despite government promises, the number of training places has not increased and student interest has fallen dramatically.'

She added: 'The nursing shortage will get even worse unless ministers support people into training and scrap the cap on pay to keep experienced staff.'

In other news