The number of applications to study undergraduate nursing across the UK is up by almost a third amid the Covid-19 pandemic, official figures show.
The University and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) revealed today that 60,130 people applied for nursing courses starting this autumn, up 32% from the year before.
The rise was seen across age groups with a 39% jump in mature students aged over 34 applying from the year before, up to 10,770, and 27% more 18-year-olds applying, reaching 16,560. In addition, 5,750 men applied – a 40% rise on the year before.
But RCN director for England Mike Adams warned that the boost to applications ‘is still not at a scale is needed’ following ‘a number of years of decline’ since the student nurse bursary – which covered tuition fees and helped with living costs in England – was axed in 2017.
He said the growth in applications means numbers have returned to around where they in 2016 and that ‘much greater efforts are needed to close the gap on those that have been lost in that time’.
NHS England chief nursing office Ruth May said: ‘During Covid-19, the level of interest in working for the NHS has trumped lots of other careers options, and that speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year.’
Minister for care Helen Whately said: ‘I’m delighted to see such an incredible boost in this year’s applications, with more mature applicants than ever before helping to contribute to a diverse and truly representative nursing workforce.
‘These figures are a testament to the work of Health Education England and UCAS in highlighting nursing as a rewarding and accessible career path, as well as the remarkable achievements of all health and care professionals over the past year.’
She added that the figures bring the Government ‘another step closer’ to its target of delivering 50,000 more nurses by 2024/25, although Boris Johnson has admitted that this target includes 18,500 existing nurses who will be retained in the profession.
The Government introduced a maintenance grant of £5,000 for all eligible student nurses in September 2020, but the RCN is calling for full tuition funding and living cost support to return.