Learning disability nursing degree course suspended due to lack of applicants

Slump in learning disability nursing applications blamed on loss of NHS bursary

 London South Bank University has suspended a learning disability nursing course
due to a lack of applicants. Picture: Alamy

A three-year learning disability nursing degree at London South Bank University has been suspended for the 2018 academic year due to a lack of applicants.

The university is still offering its postgraduate level learning disability nursing diploma.

A document detailing the outcome of a 30-day consultation into course closures at the university’s school of health and social care said staff were shocked at the proposal to close the course so soon after the transition from the NHS bursary to student loans.

Review next year

A university spokesperson said students enrolling on a new four-year extended degree would be able to specify learning disability nursing or any of the other fields of nursing as the end point for the course.

The university says the suspended learning disability nursing BSc course will be reviewed in the 2019 academic year once it is able to judge the effects of national initiatives to promote learning disability nursing careers.

The staff employed to support learning disability programmes from four to two.

A lack of applicants to learning disability nursing courses is posing a threat to educators across the UK. Earlier this year, the University of Hertfordshire suspended recruitment to its undergraduate learning disability nursing courses at two centres, citing sustained decline in applicants. Before this it had been one of the largest providers of such undergraduate courses.


RCN head of professional learning and development Anne Corrin said: ‘Sadly, this is not an isolated example. But it’s particularly depressing to find out about the suspension at London South Bank University during learning disability week.

‘Learning disability courses have been the worst hit by the student funding changes last year, and show disproportionate under-recruitment. The RCN’s recent report on training shows that six out of ten learning disability courses are under-recruited.’

Learning disability nursing attracts mature students, but with the move to a student loan funding system for undergraduate nursing courses from August 2017, applications to all nursing courses from mature students have dwindled.

Serious consequences

Ms Corrin added: ‘We know these students have traditionally been attracted to learning disability and mental health courses in particular, and that goes some way to explaining why universities, after seeing student numbers in single figures, feel they have no choice but to close them permanently.

‘This trend has serious consequences for the future of learning disability nursing and must not go unnoticed or unaddressed. The government must commit to strategic initiatives to support this field in particular.’

Overall, applications for university nursing courses in England have fallen by a third since the bursary ended.

According to the Nursing and Midwifery Council register, there were 17,174 learning disability nurses in the UK in March 2018, compared with 18,933 in 2014.

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