Nurse Arms Folded

The National Health Service is enjoying a unique moment in its 73 year-old history as its value is brought into sharp focus by the COVID pandemic. After months of weekly doorstep claps for NHS workers and NHS rainbows – a once ubiquitous sight on British streets – it is perhaps not surprising that healthcare has become a more visible and desirable career choice.

Applications to healthcare courses for the 2021/22 academic year have skyrocketed. Recently published UCAS figures have revealed that Nursing applications are up 21 per cent across the board, with increased demand from both 18 year-olds and mature students. They have also shot up for other allied health courses such as Midwifery and Physiotherapy. As the providers of training for a quarter of nurses in England and a significant proportion of allied health professionals, University Alliance universities will have a vital role to play in meeting this increased demand.

It is easy to forget that just prior to the pandemic, there was genuine concern that the Government would struggle to meet its high-profile 2019 manifesto commitment of 50,000 additional nurses. NHS hospitals, mental health services and community providers had long been reporting a shortage of more than 100,000 full-time staff, including 40,000 nurses. According to The King’s Fund, this workforce crisis was the result of:

"a prolonged funding squeeze combined with years of poor workforce planning, weak policy and fragmented responsibilities."

The removal of the student nurse bursary in 2015 had led to 10,000 fewer people applying to nursing courses each year, with a particularly steep drop in mature students. A few months before the pandemic, the Government partially reintroduced bursaries for Nursing, Midwifery and some allied health courses, which has likely contributed to the growth in applications in 2020/21 and 2021/22.

Although thousands more people are keen to join the health service, the workforce crisis has not gone away. COVID has placed immense strain on the NHS and its people. Current staff are exhausted and morale is low – not helped by the protracted debate over pay. The retention problem is illustrated by the high-profile resignation of the nurse who cared for the Prime Minister while he was gravely ill with COVID, Jenny McGee, who contends that nurses are not getting ‘the respect and now pay’ they deserve.

As an essential pipeline for the healthcare workforce, University Alliance universities are doing their part to address shortages by expanding their provision as far as they can. With healthcare recently deemed a ‘strategically important subject’ by the Government, they are likely to face continued pressure to do so. However, every year, University Alliance universities are forced to turn away thousands of high-potential applicants. This is because health courses require lengthy clinical placements, particularly for nurses and midwives, who need 2,300 hours to be qualified. There are a finite number of placements – and nowhere near enough to satisfy the soaring demand we have witnessed this year. Some University Alliance members have reported 1,000 applications for 40 to 50 places on smaller courses such as paramedic science and radiography. Many healthcare courses are already full for September 2022.

The gap between supply and demand is particularly regrettable considering the now urgent need to upskill and reskill thousands of Britons and provide high quality jobs to ‘level up’ the parts of the country where these have been lacking in recent decades. For many years, the health service has relied on overseas professionals to fill crucial gaps and it will need to continue to do so to meet the 50,000 target. This is a lost opportunity.

The Government and Health Education England, the body responsible for healthcare education and training, have recognised the problem and invested millions of pounds to increase placement capacity. In addition, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has helpfully relaxed some of its requirements during COVID and is undertaking a much-needed review of programme length and use of technology and simulation which could create more placement capacity in the future.

This increased investment and regulatory flexibility has been utilised by University Alliance universities who have been able to draw on their cutting-edge facilities, including simulation units and virtual and augmented reality training suites, to enable the delivery of innovative virtual placements.

Several University Alliance members are also providing new blended learning degrees in nursing and midwifery. University Alliance universities have long worked with partners within the local communities to address capacity challenges and skills needs and are increasingly drawing on these partnerships to identify new types of placement providers beyond the NHS, for example, independent and private hospitals and care homes.

Despite this progress, several barriers remain in the way of creating a healthy supply of placements. One of the most prominent is a lack of placement supervisors. Finding the time to look after students on placement can be challenging for overstretched, overworked NHS staff grappling with a lengthy public health crisis. The fact that the tariff that placement providers receive for nursing and allied health students is a mere tenth of what they receive for trainee doctors is a further disincentive. To make matters worse, COVID has created a substantial backlog, as many placements had to be put on hold in the earlier stages of the pandemic.

What is needed is a long-term strategy to significantly increase placement capacity developed in partnership with higher education providers. The Health and Care Bill currently going through parliament will require each part of England to have an Integrated Care System responsible for bringing together local NHS and local government to deliver joined up care for its local population. This will include responsibility for health education – and there is an opportunity for a more joined up and strategic approach. Despite their civic role and existing partnerships across the health services, universities are not yet explicitly recognised by Integrated Care Systems with the recently published Integrated Care Systems design framework only refers (sparingly) to ‘education providers’. Going forward, universities and other higher education providers need a formal place in their local Integrated Care System – and a greater role in placement management to help ensure placement capacity can match demand.

This blog was kindly contributed by Susanna Kalitowski, Head of Policy, University Alliance. You can follow University Alliance on Twitter @UniAlliance.

You may also be interested in these articles:

Sponsored Video

Register, Login or Login with your Social Media account:


Upcoming FE Events

Advertiser Skyscrapers

Newsroom Activity

AELP Webinar Team added a new event 1 hour

Recognising and supporting learners who are at risk of, or...

Overview This webinar is intended to explain the nature of harm and abuse caused to learners who may be at risk of, or have experienced sexual...

  • Wednesday, 06 October 2021 10:00 AM
  • Online

Latest Education News

Further Education News

The FE News Channel gives you the latest education news and updates on emerging education strategies and the #FutureofEducation and the #FutureofWork.

Providing trustworthy and positive Further Education news and views since 2003, we are a digital news channel with a mixture of written word articles, podcasts and videos. Our specialisation is providing you with a mixture of the latest education news, our stance is always positive, sector building and sharing different perspectives and views from thought leaders, to provide you with a think tank of new ideas and solutions to bring the education sector together and come up with new innovative solutions and ideas.

FE News publish exclusive peer to peer thought leadership articles from our feature writers, as well as user generated content across our network of over 3000 Newsrooms, offering multiple sources of the latest education news across the Education and Employability sectors.

FE News also broadcast live events, podcasts with leading experts and thought leaders, webinars, video interviews and Further Education news bulletins so you receive the latest developments in Skills News and across the Apprenticeship, Further Education and Employability sectors.

Every week FE News has over 200 articles and new pieces of content per week. We are a news channel providing the latest Further Education News, giving insight from multiple sources on the latest education policy developments, latest strategies, through to our thought leaders who provide blue sky thinking strategy, best practice and innovation to help look into the future developments for education and the future of work.

In Jan 2021, FE News had over 173,000 unique visitors according to Google Analytics and over 200 new pieces of news content every week, from thought leadership articles, to the latest education news via written word, podcasts, video to press releases from across the sector, putting us in the top 2,000 websites in the UK.

We thought it would be helpful to explain how we tier our latest education news content and how you can get involved and understand how you can read the latest daily Further Education news and how we structure our FE Week of content:

Main Features

Our main features are exclusive and are thought leadership articles and blue sky thinking with experts writing peer to peer news articles about the future of education and the future of work. The focus is solution led thought leadership, sharing best practice, innovation and emerging strategy. These are often articles about the future of education and the future of work, they often then create future education news articles. We limit our main features to a maximum of 20 per week, as they are often about new concepts and new thought processes. Our main features are also exclusive articles responding to the latest education news, maybe an insight from an expert into a policy announcement or response to an education think tank report or a white paper.

FE Voices

FE Voices was originally set up as a section on FE News to give a voice back to the sector. As we now have over 3,000 newsrooms and contributors, FE Voices are usually thought leadership articles, they don’t necessarily have to be exclusive, but usually are, they are slightly shorter than Main Features. FE Voices can include more mixed media with the Further Education News articles, such as embedded podcasts and videos. Our sector response articles asking for different comments and opinions to education policy announcements or responding to a report of white paper are usually held in the FE Voices section. If we have a live podcast in an evening or a radio show such as SkillsWorldLive radio show, the next morning we place the FE podcast recording in the FE Voices section.

Sector News

In sector news we have a blend of content from Press Releases, education resources, reports, education research, white papers from a range of contributors. We have a lot of positive education news articles from colleges, awarding organisations and Apprenticeship Training Providers, press releases from DfE to Think Tanks giving the overview of a report, through to helpful resources to help you with delivering education strategies to your learners and students.


We have a range of education podcasts on FE News, from hour long full production FE podcasts such as SkillsWorldLive in conjunction with the Federation of Awarding Bodies, to weekly podcasts from experts and thought leaders, providing advice and guidance to leaders. FE News also record podcasts at conferences and events, giving you one on one podcasts with education and skills experts on the latest strategies and developments.

We have over 150 education podcasts on FE News, ranging from EdTech podcasts with experts discussing Education 4.0 and how technology is complimenting and transforming education, to podcasts with experts discussing education research, the future of work, how to develop skills systems for jobs of the future to interviews with the Apprenticeship and Skills Minister.

We record our own exclusive FE News podcasts, work in conjunction with sector partners such as FAB to create weekly podcasts and daily education podcasts, through to working with sector leaders creating exclusive education news podcasts.

Education Video Interviews

FE News have over 700 FE Video interviews and have been recording education video interviews with experts for over 12 years. These are usually vox pop video interviews with experts across education and work, discussing blue sky thinking ideas and views about the future of education and work.


FE News has a free events calendar to check out the latest conferences, webinars and events to keep up to date with the latest education news and strategies.

FE Newsrooms

The FE Newsroom is home to your content if you are a FE News contributor. It also help the audience develop relationship with either you as an individual or your organisation as they can click through and ‘box set’ consume all of your previous thought leadership articles, latest education news press releases, videos and education podcasts.

Do you want to contribute, share your ideas or vision or share a press release?

If you want to write a thought leadership article, share your ideas and vision for the future of education or the future of work, write a press release sharing the latest education news or contribute to a podcast, first of all you need to set up a FE Newsroom login (which is free): once the team have approved your newsroom (all content, newsrooms are all approved by a member of the FE News team- no robots are used in this process!), you can then start adding content (again all articles, videos and podcasts are all approved by the FE News editorial team before they go live on FE News). As all newsrooms and content are approved by the FE News team, there will be a slight delay on the team being able to review and approve content.

 RSS IconRSS Feed Selection Page