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Government ‘storing up problems’ as mature students shun nursing, RCN warns

Six thousand fewer mature students have applied to study nursing, according to UCAS figures
Mature student in college

The RCN said the government is storing up problems for the future after it emerged applications to nursing programmes from mature students have dropped by more than a quarter.

The slump in the number of applicants aged over 25 coincides with the introduction this autumn of tuition fees for nursing degrees, in place of the NHS student bursary in England.

University admissions service UCAS said almost six thousand fewer mature students applied for nursing by the end of March deadline this year than in 2016 down 28% from 21,060 to 15,160 while nursing degree applications overall have dropped by 23%.

Warning ignored

The RCN claims this jeopardises the supply of new nurses to the NHS, particularly in mental health and

The RCN said the government is storing up problems for the future after it emerged applications to nursing programmes from mature students have dropped by more than a quarter.


Almost six thousand fewer mature students applied for nursing by the March deadline
this year than in 2016. Picture: iStock

The slump in the number of applicants aged over 25 coincides with the introduction this autumn of tuition fees for nursing degrees, in place of the NHS student bursary in England.

University admissions service UCAS said almost six thousand fewer mature students applied for nursing by the end of March deadline this year than in 2016 – down 28% from 21,060 to 15,160 – while nursing degree applications overall have dropped by 23%.

Warning ignored

The RCN claims this jeopardises the supply of new nurses to the NHS, particularly in mental health and learning disability services, which tend to attract a greater proportion of mature graduate nurses.

College general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘Ministers were warned of this worrying trend in January and they had two months before the final application deadline to sort it out. The government scrapped the bursaries students relied on and imposed fees. This leaves a serious concern that the government is storing up problems for the future.

‘The RCN consistently warned the government its decision to scrap bursaries and charge fees would result in decreased applications. Tomorrow’s nursing workforce, especially older applicants with young families, have been deterred at the very moment the NHS needs them most.’

‘Confident’

In a written answer to a parliamentary question by Green party leader Caroline Lucas, health minister Philip Dunne said that Health Education England is confident all commissioned degree programme places for the 2017-18 intake would be filled.

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.

‘There have been over 3,000 additional applicants since January, and we are confident we will have all the student nurses the NHS needs by September.’


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