‘Drastic’ fall in nursing degree applications since bursary cut

Nursing leaders voice concern about reduction since the government withdrew funding for student bursaries.
Bursary or Bust demonstration

A ‘drastic’ fall in nursing degree applications since the government withdrew funding for bursaries has caused concern among nursing leaders.

Nurses protesting in London about plans to scrap bursary. Picture: Barney Newman

Universities have said applications for nursing, midwifery and allied health courses are down 20% on last year, and in some institutions applications have halved.

The figures come from a members’ survey by the vice-chancellors’ body Universities UK, which also found that the drop in applications for nursing, midwifery and allied health is twice that for other courses.

Advice fell on deaf ears

RCN general secretary Janet Davies said: ‘The drastic fall in nursing applications that we warned would happen has happened.

‘Despite 100 years’ of nursing knowledge and expertise, our advice fell on deaf ears – the government went ahead in gambling on the future of the nursing workforce.

‘Fewer students means fewer nurses. We are already in the midst of a workforce crisis, with not enough nurses being trained domestically and an overreliance on overseas recruitment.’

Negative impact

In July the government confirmed it would scrap bursary funding for nursing students and replace it with 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.

Council of Deans of Health executive director Katerina Kolyva said that overall, the university sector overall had received about 10% fewer course applications than last year.

The Council of Deans of Health represents UK university faculties for nursing, midwifery and the allied health professions.

Dr Kolyva said: ‘For courses affected by the funding reforms – where we predicted that there would be a fall in applications in the first year or two – it appears that there may be reductions that are higher than anticipated.’

However, she cautioned that it was ‘early in the recruitment cycle’ and the figures were emerging against a backdrop of a trend for students to apply to university later in that cycle.

‘We are working closely with the Department of Health, Health Careers and other organisations to ensure that students receive clear and accurate information about the new funding arrangements, as well as the benefits of pursuing a career in nursing, midwifery or one of the allied health professions.’

Caution on figures

A University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) spokesperson said: ‘At this point in the admissions cycle it’s 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.

‘The number of acceptances has been rising over time, and the increase in 2016 means there are likely to be fewer re-appliers in 2017.’

According to the Times, shortfalls in applications were in London and the south east, among mature candidates and in specialist fields such as learning disability nursing.

The government claimed that ending the bursaries would create 10,000 extra nurse training places.

A Department of Health spokesperson said it was too early in the application process to predict reliable trends for next year: ‘We are committed to increasing the number of training places for home-grown nurses, as well as making sure there are more routes into nursing, including through apprenticeships.’

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