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Record numbers apply to study nursing at British universities amid pandemic

Inspiring stories from wards over the past year has led to more people wanting to pursue a career in nursing, Ucas says.

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(Chris Ison/PA)

(Chris Ison/PA)

(Chris Ison/PA)

Record numbers have applied to study nursing at UK universities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of applications for nursing courses has surged by almost a third (32%), statistics from the university admissions service show.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said “inspiring stories” from wards over the past year has led to more people wanting to pursue a career in nursing.

The latest Ucas figures – which show the numbers applying to start undergraduate courses by the main January 29 application deadline – reveal that the number of applicants for nursing rose to 60,130.

There have been rises in each age group, with the number of UK school-leavers opting for nursing increasing by 27% from last year to a record 16,560.

The amazing work of our NHS continues to inspire people of all ages into fulfilling and rewarding careers, helping those in most need as we emerge from the pandemic.Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 mature students aged 35 or over have applied to study nursing for the first time this year, which is a rise of 39% on 2020.

But the new statistics also suggest that the number of EU applicants to all subjects at UK universities has fallen by 40% to 26,010 in the past year.

The Ucas report suggests that the uncertainty at the end of 2020 surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union – as well as changes to student support arrangements – have contributed to the fall in applications.

EU nationals not covered by the Withdrawal Agreement will no longer be eligible for home fee status and loans for courses starting in September.

While EU applicant numbers have dropped, the data shows that a record 85,610 people have applied to study in the UK from countries outside the EU – up 17% compared to last year.

Applicants from China rose by more than a fifth this year (21%) to 25,810, while applicants from India increased by a quarter (25%) to 7,820.

Ucas said the latest data also showed that a growing number of 18 year olds from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK have applied to university.

The figures reveal that the largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group came from black and mixed race students – both up 15% to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively.

Overall, a record 42.6% of all UK 18 year olds had applied to university by the main deadline last month, up from 39.5% at the same point last year.

Ms Marchant said: “The inspiring stories from wards across the country over the past year has undoubtedly led to more people wanting to become our nurses of the future.”

She added: “The amazing work of our NHS continues to inspire people of all ages into fulfilling and rewarding careers, helping those in most need as we emerge from the pandemic. Overall, applications are buoyant as students plan their futures for life after lockdown.

“We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants.”

Mike Adams, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Today’s nursing staff are clearly inspiring those of the future. Their professionalism and dedication in the last 12 months has clearly encouraged even more people determined to join a diverse and fulfilling career.

“This is a welcome boost in applications but follows a number of years of decline since the removal of Government support for tuition fees and living costs.”

Mr Adams warned that the boost is “still not at the scale that is needed” and he said greater efforts are needed to fill thousands of vacant nursing jobs.

He called for nursing students to be given full tuition funding and living cost support to ensure they are not “forced to leave” courses due to financial pressures.

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said: “The so-called ‘Nightingale effect’ has seen interest in the NHS trumping lots of other careers and that speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year.”

She added: “The NHS has run the biggest recruitment drive in our history through our ‘We are the NHS campaign’, while we hear time and again how inspired people have been by the extraordinary efforts of nurses and other colleagues in the Covid response this year. ”

Last year, the Government introduced bursaries of at least £5,000 per year for all nursing, midwifery and allied health professional students

Minister for care Helen Whately said: “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.

“We’re another step closer to delivering 50,000 more nurses for our NHS and providing better healthcare for everyone.”

PA


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