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Nursing applications rising but down 25% since bursary axed

Applications to study nursing in England have increased slightly from last year but are still down 25% since the bursary was axed, new figures released today show.  

There has been a 6% increase in applications to 32,490 in January this year, up from 30,650 at the same point in 2019, the latest data from the University College and Admissions Service (UCAS) has revealed.  

However, the number of people applying for nursing degrees dropped by 25% from 43,800 in 2016 – the last year students received the bursary, which covered tuition fees and helped with living costs in England.  

Despite the increase, nursing leaders have called for the Government to take ‘decisive action’ to cover nurse tuition fees on top of the £5,000 annual grant for living costs already promised from September 2020.  

The controversial decision to scrap the bursary hit mature students the hardest. The latest figures show 5,890 applications from those aged 35 or over – a 23% increase on the year before, but down from 7,680 in 2016.  

Chief executive of the RCN Dame Donna Kinnair called for ‘decisive action’ from the Government to bring back tuition fees. 

‘Would-be nurses are still being put off by the requirement to pay tuition fees and the prospect of a lifetime of student debt,’ she said.  

She welcomed the introduction of grants to cover living costs but noted that ‘nursing courses are yet to see a surge in interest’.  

‘The number of potential new nurses is way below what is needed to close the gap in the NHS in England, let alone what‘s needed for social care and public health,’ she said.  

‘To see the promised 50,000 new nurses, we need to see the full range of support to build the nursing workforce. 

‘At the upcoming budget, I urge the chancellor to provide tuition fee funding for nursing courses and living grants that reflect genuine student living costs.’ 

Meanwhile, Health Education England chief nurse Mark Radford welcomed the rise in mature applicants, adding that HEE had done ‘very specific work to attract interest from this group’.  

HEE targeted career switchers to consider a career in nursing as part of the £8 million ‘We Are the NHS, We Are Nurse’ recruitment campaign. 

Overall, the UK saw a 6% increase in applicants, up from 41,190 in 2019 to 43,530 this year.  

Applicants in Scotland surged by 12% from 5,250 to 5,910, while those in Northern Ireland dropped from 2,560 to 2,420.  

Wales no saw change in the number of applications. 


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