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Universities should lower nursing degree entry requirements, says Open University

Higher education institutions should remove ‘unnecessary’ entry requirements for nursing students, according to a report by The Open University (OU).  

The report, entitled 'Breaking Barriers to Nursing', found that 11% of young people (aged 18-24) who considered becoming a nurse were put off by the grades needed to apply. 

The minimum of three A-levels at C-grade required by nine in 10 (91%) of the higher education institutions that offer the nursing degree presents a ‘significant block to widening participation in nursing’, argued the report. 

It added that there was a 'strong argument' to review these thresholds, which go beyond the minimum requirements set by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

The NMC state that the minimum requirement for students who wish to become nurses are GCSEs in English and Maths.

The OU requirements for its BSc in Adult Nursing mirror that of the NMC - with GCSEs in Maths and English at a Grade C or above - alongside good character and health, and a successful interview and assessment of personal values.  

The recommendation came as part of an investigation into why 6% of university places went unfilled this academic year, the equivalent of 1,446 of fully trained nurses.  

Other major barriers to study included money such as living costs and student loans (33%), working hours (24%), perceived pressure and stress on the job (24%) and travel (13%).  

With two out of five of those concerned about long hours influenced by what they read in media reports or blogs, the OU called on the NHS to work on tackling negative pereceptions and promote nursing as a good career. For example, many NHS Trusts now offer flexibility in working arrangements for nurses and other staff.  

In addition, The OU suggested that higher education institutions should deliver lectures, materials and support digitally, allowing more flexible study and less need to travel.  

Investing in apprenticeships was also recommended to help reduce financial disincentives. NHS employers are increasingly signing up existing staff, such as healthcare support workers, to become registered with the NMC via this route.  

If barriers were removed and all available university places were filled, an additional 10,800 nurses could be provided over ten years and the forecasted deficit of 108,000 nurses reduced by 13%. 

Sally Boyle, head of school in the Faculty of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care at The Open University said the number of people being deterred from a nursing career is ‘devastating’.  

She continued: ‘There are a number of barriers to studying nursing that can be easily addressed if Higher Education Institutions, healthcare employers and the government work together to take advantage of available technologies and initiatives, such as flexible technology-enabled learning and apprenticeships. By ensuring that the maximum possible number of nurses are training and registering each year, the sector will have better access to the nurses it urgently needs.’