Nursing has experienced a 23% decline in university applications from last year, according to the latest figures from UCAS.
Applicants from England making at least one choice of nursing fell to 33,810 in 2017. There were 43,800 applicants in England in January 2016. This means 9990 fewer people have chosen to study nursing compared with the previous academic year.
Most applicants to nursing are over 19 years old and English applicants from this age group decreased by between 16% and 29%. Applicants to nursing aged 18 years old fell by 10%.
Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said that this fall in applicants would ‘threaten nursing’s future’. The RCN previously warned that the decision to axe student nursing bursaries would harm numbers of applications. ‘The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020 it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation.’
She added that the ‘outlook is bleak’. Fewer EU nurses are coming to work in the UK following the Brexit vote, and nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2020.
She suggested that the government should take immediate action to encourage more applicants by reinstating student funding and investing in student education.
However, Professor Dame Jessica Corner, chair of the Council of Deans of Health, said that it was to be expected that there would be fewer applicants in the first year following the changes to the funding system. She highlighted that there had been a reduction in applicants to higher education courses across the board. She also said that the government had created new routes into nursing such as the nursing apprenticeships and nursing associates to encourage people into nursing.
Senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University and advanced nurse practitioner Marie-Therese Massey thinks it is understandable that the introduction of tuition fees would have an impact on applications to nursing degrees.
‘What is needed is an increase in different models of nursing education that includes growing the future registered nursing workforce from the roots up. We need to embrace nursing associates and apprentices and encourage and support healthcare assistants to move towards registration as qualified nurses,’ she added.
The UCAS figures showed that the largest decrease was exhibited in England with a 23% drop, but decreases were also evident in Wales (11%) Scotland (7%) and Northern Ireland (4%).