Expert advice

Workforce: What do the UCAS figures tell us about new entrants to nurse education? 

The end of year report from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service shows a crash in the number of mature entrants but suggests nurse education can help with social inclusion, says workforce expert James Buchan

The end of year report from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service shows a crash in the number of mature entrants but suggests nurse education can help with social inclusion, says workforce expert James Buchan


Picture: Alamy

Is the glass half full or half empty? That depends on your post-festive perspective on the pattern of applications to nursing courses in 2017.

The end of year report from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) showed a 23% drop in applications in England, generating negative headlines.

However, many applicants will have applied for more than one undergraduate nursing course, meaning actual acceptances onto courses must also be assessed to gain a complete picture.

Acceptances fall slightly

In 2017, the number of UK acceptances to nurse education fell very slightly, by 0.8%, to 28,095. Given the controversy over the ending of bursaries for nursing students in England, but not in the other three UK countries, UCAS also helpfully provide country level analysis.

This showed there were 22,045 acceptances in England, a decrease of 2.6%. In contrast, the report highlighted an increase of 9.3% in Scotland, with Wales reporting an increase of 6.2%. Northern Ireland saw a small decrease of -1.2%.

It is too early to draw firm conclusions about these relative changes at country level, particularly as the shift to the loan system in England was bungled, with last gasp additional government funding.

Barrier for older entrants

Of more immediate concern is the crash in the number of mature entrants to nursing. For the first time since 2008, more 18-year-olds were accepted onto nursing courses than those aged 21 to 25, suggesting the expense of a loan may be a barrier to some older entrants.

A more positive note is highlighted in the pattern of university entry by ‘area-based measure of disadvantage’. The entry pattern for 18-year-olds demonstrated much greater equality for nursing courses than for the average course, suggesting nurse education can help with social inclusion.

The UCAS report only looks at the new supply of students, and does not tell us if nursing numbers are sufficient to meet demand. That particular glass looks drained almost to the last drop.


James Buchan is professor in the faculty of health and social sciences at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh 
 
 

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