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Nursing degree course applications experience ‘biggest fall on record’

The number of applicants for undergraduate nursing degree courses has dropped by 18% compared to 2016, according to figures released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) today (4 December).

The total number of applicants to nursing for 2017 was 54,985 - 11,750 fewer than in 2016. UCAS report that this 18% drop is the ‘biggest fall in nursing applicants on record’.

But the large fall in applications was not reflected with a similar drop in those who were accepted onto nursing courses, with only 0.9% fewer people (270) accepted onto nursing degree programmes in 2017, compared to 2016, leaving the total at 28,620 current students, the second highest on record.

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There were 90 fewer acceptances from the EU, leaving the total number of EU applicants accepted onto nursing programmes in 2017 at 425. The number of acceptances from the UK fell by 220 to 28,090.

Although total UK acceptances only suffered a minor drop, there were far fewer acceptances for older applicants. While the number of 18-year-olds accepted onto nursing courses is the highest on record, there were 680 fewer acceptances in the 21-25 age bracket (-13%), and 545 fewer in the 26 and over bracket (-6%), compared to 2016. It means that, for the first time since 2008, there were more 18-year-olds accepted to nursing degree courses than there were 21-25 year olds.

Overall acceptances fell by 2.6% from applicants living in England, and by 1.2% in Northern Ireland, but instead increased for those living in Scotland and Wales by 9.3% and 6.2%, respectively.

Country of residence No.of acceptances in 2017 No.of acceptances in 2016 % change
England 22,045 22,630 -2.6%
Scotland 3,225* 2,950 +9.3%
Wales 1,730 1,630 +6.2%
Northern Ireland 1,090 2,005 -1.2%

* UCAS figures do not include all higher education institutions in Scotland

Source: UCAS End of cycle report 2017, patterns by subject

Head of health at UNISON, Sara Gorton, blamed the drop in applications on the scrapping of the nursing bursary.

She said: ‘Unfortunately the Government’s decision to scrap the bursary has clearly deterred people from pursuing a career in nursing.

‘The drop in older applicants [being accepted] is particularly worrying. It suggests that the fear of heavy debts is putting off people who might be switching careers or have family to support. It’s really important that NHS staff reflect the communities they serve, and no one is priced out of becoming a nurse.

‘And although there has been a rise in the overall number of students accepted onto nursing courses, this is well short of the Government’s target of 10,000 new nurses.’