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University admissions: nursing student applications in England continue to fall

RCN says one third fewer nursing student applicants in England since tuition fees replaced the bursary in 2016

  • 31,750 applicants to nursing courses in England in 2018 compared with 47,390 in 2016
  • Around 500 fewer nursing student applicants from the EU 
  • UK sees 28% fall in applicants from 60,350 in 2016 to 43,700 in 2018

RCN says one third fewer nursing student applicants in England since tuition fees replaced the bursary in 2016


Picture: Alamy

Ministers must get a grip on the falling number of nursing student applications, the RCN said as figures show applicants in England have fallen by one third since 2016.

UCAS figures 

Figures out today from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show applications for nursing courses beginning this September continue to show a year-on-year decline since the nursing student bursary was replaced in England by tuition fees.

So far, just 31,750 applicants to nursing courses in England have come from within the country, compared with 47,390 by the same point in March 2016.

This means applications show no sign of recovery from UCAS's last data release for January 2018, which showed one third fewer applicants from England since tuition fees replaced the bursary in 2016.

Rest of the UK

Figures from across the rest of the UK – where the bursary remains intact – show:

  • Northern Irish applicants fell from 2,730 in March 2016 to 2,380 at the same point in 2018
  • Scottish applicants saw a rise of just ten applicants from 5,140 to 5,150 this year
  • Welsh applications fell by 320 in two years to 2,780 in 2018
  • There were also 490 fewer applicants to nursing from the EU, with 1,090 applying this year
  • Overall, the UK has seen a fall of almost one third (28%) in the number of applicants from 60,350 in 2016 to 43,700 in 2018

‘Jeopardise care’

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The continued failure of ministers to get a grip on the nurse training situation will jeopardise care for patients.

‘Extra university places are only worthwhile if they are filled and the NHS gets a newly trained nurse at the end. The government knows patients can pay a highest price when there aren’t enough nurses.’

The government said that by removing the bursary, universities would be able to increase admissions.

However, applications to universities for mental health and learning disabilities courses have dropped off, while universities have struggled to expand places due to a shortage of placements.

The University of Hertfordshire – one of the biggest providers for undergraduate learning disability nursing – recently announced it would suspend courses at two of its centres because it was undersubscribed.

RCN says ministers must ‘redouble efforts’

Ms Davies said ministers must ‘redouble efforts’ to get students in nursing and reverse its latest decision to scrap nursing bursaries this year for students embarking on postgraduate training to become nurses.

A DH (Department for Health and Social Care) spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is getting more nurses on our wards, which is why we increased the number of nurse training places available by 25%, allowing more people to study nursing than ever before.

‘Any decrease in the number of applications must be seen in the context of this significant increase in the number of nursing places available – and places remain oversubscribed.’

Health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt committed to reviewing the number of applications to universities over the next few years during a question and answer session at the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s Summit in Liverpool last month.

Earlier this year, the RCN has called for a national campaign to boost nursing student numbers including a DH budget to cover means-tested grants and incentivise students through writing off tuition fees.

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