Universities confirm drops in nursing degree applications ahead of official data

Applications are down but institutions are confident they will be able to recruit their targeted numbers.
Student attrition

Applications for nursing degree courses are down for the forthcoming academic year, a number of universities have told Nursing Standard. However, institutions say they are confident they will be able to recruit their targeted numbers.

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Figures on applications to UK university courses for the 2017-18 academic year, including nursing courses, will be revealed at the beginning of February when the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) publishes official data.

However, 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.

Straw poll

Nursing Standard has carried out a snapshot survey of a number of universities that offer pre-registration nursing courses, and most reported declines in applications.

A University of Chester spokesperson said it had seen about a 15% reduction in applications to nursing programmes but was ‘optimistic’ about recruiting enough students.

‘We are aware that there appears to be a reduction in mature applicants,’ he said.

‘There has also been a significant reduction in the number of applicants to the learning disability field, which is concerning.

‘However, at present, we intend to deliver this programme even with a reduced student cohort size.’

Similarly, Staffordshire University reported a ‘small decline’ in applications, but warned that it was still early in the applications cycle.

Lancashire’s Edge Hill University vice-chancellor John Cater said his organisation had seen ‘a smaller decline’ in applications than the 20% average drop.

Bursary loss

Last July the government confirmed it would scrap bursary funding for nursing students in England and replace it with tuition fees and loans from August 2017.

Health unions argued at the time that the move would negatively affect the number of nursing degree applications at a time when the workforce desperately needed new nurses.

As in other places, Kingston University has seen applications down from the previous year, but school of nursing head Julia Gale said she was confident places would be filled.

‘The changes to bursary funding are a challenging situation for higher education providers across the sector,’ said Dr Gale.

‘However, we are confident we will continue to attract the highest quality of applicants.

‘We are offering the same number of places on our nursing courses as last year and will continue to monitor the situation.’

Difficult to predict

A UCAS spokesperson said it was too early to draw conclusions about demand: ‘At this point in the admissions cycle, it is not possible to predict what the demand for nursing courses will be.

‘Application patterns are typically weighted towards the deadline and are affected by the pattern of weekends and public holidays among other factors.’

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