From education to employment

Pandemic inspires ‘future nurses’ with a welcome increase in school and college leavers looking to enter the profession

Nursing during Covid

A record number of 18-year-olds applied to study nursing in England in 2021, with the COVID pandemic playing a significant factor in their decision to apply, according to a new UCAS report published today (20 Jan) in collaboration with Health Education England (HEE).

This has been accompanied by an overall rise in the number of nursing applicants across all ages, with a record 28,815 choosing a nursing course in England as their first choice through UCAS. The pandemic has shone a positive spotlight on the profession and raised the public profile of nursing.

This, together with the introduction of the Learning Support Fund, promotion of nursing careers through the award-winning We are the NHS campaign, and an investment of £55 million into  practice placements, has contributed to the increase in applications to study nursing.

The number of 18 year olds choosing to study nursing has increased by 38%, to reach 7,105, since 2019. This led to a 43% increase in the number with a confirmed place to 6,510 students. This significant growth came as the UK’s overall 18 year old population rose by just 2% during the same time.

The demand from mature applicants, those aged 21 and over, also remains strong, with the number of applicants choosing nursing as their first choice up over a third (+34%) since 2019 to reach 17,415.

In today’s report Next Steps: Who are the ‘future nurses’?, it is estimated that since the World Health Organisation declared the global pandemic in March 2020, over 56,000 people have started an undergraduate nursing course, degree apprenticeship or trainee nursing associate programme.

More than two-thirds (69%) of applicants said that the pandemic inspired them to apply to study to become a nurse, with around 1 in 10 identifying the pandemic as the most important factor in their decision, and 1 in 4 stating that current healthcare personnel were the most significant influencer. Moreover, 99% of 2021 nursing applicants surveyed said they were confident that they had made the right decision to study nursing.

UCAS has also seen a surge in demand for information on nursing apprenticeships through the UCAS apprenticeship platform CareerFinder over the last twelve months, with nearly 30,000 people searching for nursing apprenticeships. According to national data, the numbers starting nursing degree apprenticeships doubled to over 2,000 in the past year, despite widespread falls in wider apprenticeship starts during the pandemic.

Key findings from today’s report include:

  • A ‘positive equality gap’. Nursing joins education and health and social care courses as one of only three subjects where more young people from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK choose to study nursing than their most advantaged counterparts.
  • More geographically mobile ‘future nurses’ start their training. Driven by the increase in younger applicants to nursing, there was a 51% uplift in aspiring nurses starting courses outside an hour and a half radius from home. This has the potential to address geographic ‘cold spots’.
  • Mental health nursing receives a welcome boost. 30% more students applied for mental health nursing courses compared to 2019. This comes after UCAS reported a 450% increase in the number of mental health declarations in the UCAS application over the last decade.
  • A stark gender gap. Men remain an untapped source for nurses, with women more than 9 times more likely to choose and be placed on nursing courses. The application gap rises to 57 times more likely for children’s nursing courses.
  • EU demand holds firmdemand for nursing courses from EU applicants rose by 6%, in stark contrast to the overall fall of 42% in EU applications to English courses.    
Clare Marchant

UCAS Chief Executive Clare Marchant said:

“It is incredibly heartening to see that one of the positive legacies of the work of our incredible healthcare workers during the pandemic is that more of our young people have been inspired to enter the nursing profession, particularly when they are arguably the ones who have been most impacted, both in terms of their education and way of life.

“This, coupled with a continuing strong demand from mature applicants, and a surge in interest for information on nursing associates and degree apprenticeships via UCAS’ apprenticeship platform CareerFinder has resulted in record numbers of students embarking on their individual journeys to become a nurse in England since the pandemic began.

“As we approach next week’s deadline for applications for 2022 entry (26 January), we can expect that this wave of increased demand for nursing education and training opportunities will show no signs of waning.”

Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove and former Chancellor said

Health and Social Care Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:

“I’m thrilled that a record number of 18-year-olds applied to study careers in nursing in 2021, with the extraordinary achievements of staff during the pandemic inspiring a new generation to become the future of our health and care services.

“We are on track to recruit 50,000 more nurses by the end of this Parliament and we are supporting all eligible nursing students with a training grant worth at least £5,000 a year. I urge anyone who wants a fulfilling career in the NHS to apply next year.”

Dr Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, said:

“The last couple of years, difficult as they have been, have shone a spotlight on the value of our nursing profession and the rewarding careers on offer in every corner of the NHS. We are thrilled to see tens of thousands of applications – and a record number of acceptances – to study nursing and are delighted by the contribution of the close partnership between UCAS and our ‘We are the NHS’ recruitment campaign to these results.

“As these nurses of the future will find throughout their careers, the NHS offers the opportunity to have an experience like no other and I urge everyone to search NHS careers to find out more.”

Professor Mark Radford CBE, Chief Nurse at Health Education England and Deputy Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, said:

“We can see from this report that the focus on the contribution of nurses and nursing throughout the pandemic has played a part in increasing the number of people considering a career in nursing.

“Health Education England, UCAS, universities, and practice placement providers have also contributed by promoting nursing careers and increasing the number of practice placements available to support nursing students, enabling them to join the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register and take up roles within our services as critical thinking professionals. Our work with NHS England and NHS Improvement on the award-winning We are the NHS campaign has also shone a light on the opportunities a career in nursing can bring.

“This report provides other fascinating insights into our future nurses. The insights from this work will support us, and our partners in the health and care system, to continue to build a nursing workforce that is highly skilled, critically thinking, and with the right values.”

Nursing applications soar as UCAS publishes latest undergraduate applicant analysis

18th Feb 2021: Over 60,000 people are keen to be part of the fightback against coronavirus and embark on a career in nursing according to latest university application statistics, published in Feb 2021 by UCAS (@ucas_online).

29 January 2021 was the equal consideration deadline for full-time undergraduate applications for university and college courses that start this coming autumn. This year the deadline was extended from 15 to 29 January to give students and teachers two extra weeks many of them needed following the move back to online learning.

Total applications for nursing courses have risen by almost a third (32%) to reach 60,130, with increases seen in each age group – from UK 18 year old school leavers (a record 16,560 applicants, up 27% on 2020) to mature students aged 35 and over, where for the first time over 10,000 (10,770, a 39% rise) have applied.

Further analysis of today’s figures for applications covering all subjects show:

  • 306,200 UK 18 year olds have applied, an increase of 11% on 2020. These applicants represent 42.6% of the 18 year old population, meaning this is the first year that more than 2/5 of young people have applied.
  • Mature applicants (those aged 21 and over) from the UK have risen by 24% to 96,390. Previous UCAS research  has shown applications from older age groups are also prone to increase when the economy is not as strong.
  • The largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group has come from black and mixed race students, both up 15% to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively.  Applicants from the Asian ethnic group have increased by 10% to 70,140, while 11% more white students (to a total of 352,170) have applied.
  • More than a quarter of 18 year old students from the most disadvantaged areas (26.4% from quintile 1 of the UK using the  POLAR4 measure , 33,960 students) have applied, up from 24.5% at the same point in 2020.
  • Applicants from outside of the EU continue to rise and are up this year by 17% to a record 85,610. Applicants from China and India have increased to 25,810 (+21%) and 7,820 (+25%) respectively. The USA has seen the largest proportional increase of any major nation as applicant numbers have risen 61% to 6,670.
  • EU applicant numbers have decreased to 26,010 (-40%) as the short term effects and uncertainty at the end of the last calendar year surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and changes to student support arrangements, have impacted on applications from the continent. However, applicants from Ireland have increased by 26% to reach 4,850.

Overall, a total of 616,360 people had applied, an increase of 8.5% and a new record for this point in the application cycle.

Clare Marchant, UCAS Chief Executive, said:

“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. Many students will also have been inspired by last week’s National Apprenticeship Week  and be looking at that route in parallel with an undergraduate application to keep their options open.”

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, said:

“This surge in interest from people – of all ages – in wanting to study nursing is incredible, and is great news for the public and the health service. 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. We hope that we can inspire even more people to consider a rewarding career in the NHS in the near future – if you are interested, please have a look at the many opportunities that are available.”

Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse, Health Education England, said:

“To see applications rise for the third year running, and by such an extraordinary leap, is really wonderful news. The tireless and outstanding commitment of all our nurses over the past year – from students and practising professionals to those who’ve returned to work to help with the pandemic response – is the best possible advert for the nursing profession. We will work with our outstanding universities to welcome and support many thousands of new recruits to embark on this amazing and truly rewarding career.”

Applications for undergraduate courses can continue to be made until the end of June, provided universities and colleges have indicated there are places available. Additionally, applicants can apply direct to Clearing over the course of the summer.

For most higher education courses, an application must be submitted to UCAS by 18:00 on 29 January 2021, to guarantee it will receive equal consideration by universities and colleges. With over 98% of main scheme UK 18 year old applicants (and over 85% of all main scheme applicants) applying by the January deadline last year, these statistics provide a reliable reference point for demand each year.

Universities UK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis said:

“It is very encouraging to see more people of all ages and backgrounds choosing to study at UK universities, recognising the broad range of benefits that a university degree will bring them throughout their lives.

“We are particularly pleased to see record numbers of applications from disadvantaged students, the increase in applications from mature students, and the high demand for nursing courses.

“The fall in demand from EU applicants is a source of concern. The UK government and universities must continue to demonstrate how much they value European students by working together to promote the UK as a high quality destination for study and by offering new forms of financial support.”

Cat Turhan, Policy Analyst at the Russell Group, said:

“Today’s figures show an encouraging rise in overall applications for undergraduate courses in 2021 at higher-tariff universities, including from applicants from the most underrepresented areas. It demonstrates that students remain confident about the value of the skills and knowledge provided by a high-quality university education, which will be crucial to our recovery at a national and individual level. 

“The growth in non-EU applicants from a wide range of countries also shows the UK remains a fantastic global destination for prospective students, with the introduction of a two-year post-study work visa beginning to pay dividends.

“With changes to assessments in 2021, Russell Group universities are working closely with DfE and Ofqual as well as the devolved administrations to try and ensure a smooth admissions process that minimises the stress on students. Whatever the assessment system this summer, we want to reassure students across all four nations of the UK that Russell Group universities will be as fair and flexible as possible so they are not disadvantaged in their applications.”

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