Richard Adams writes:
Applications by students in England to nursing and midwifery courses at British universities have fallen by 23% after the government , figures show.
leaders said the sudden slump revealed by the latest university application data was inevitable given that student nurses now faced paying annual tuition fees of more than £9,000.
“These figures confirm our worst fears.
“The nursing workforce is in crisis and if fewer nurses graduate in 2020 it will exacerbate what is already an unsustainable situation,” said Janet Davies, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing.
“The outlook is bleak: following the Brexit vote, and by 2020 nearly half the workforce will be eligible for retirement.
“With 24,000 nursing vacancies in the UK, the government needs to take immediate action to encourage more applicants by reinstating student funding and investing in student education.
“The , and the NHS, is in jeopardy.”
Universities dismissed talk of a crisis, arguing that when tuition fees rose to £9,000 a year but later recovered.
“Our members report receiving a high number of good quality applications for most courses and they will continue to recruit through to the summer,” said Prof Jessica Corner, chair of the .
“Where courses have historically had a large number of applicants, fewer applicants might well not affect eventual student numbers.” Prof Steve West, the chair of Universities UK’s health education policy network, said most universities had anticipated “a dip” in applications but called for the government to promote nursing degrees.
The drop in nursing applications was part of an overall fall in applications to start undergraduates courses in Britain this year, according to figures from Ucas, the university admissions clearing house.
The number of domestic applicants dropped by 5%, the biggest fall in recent years, and there was a 7% fall in applications from the EU, as .
Applications from British-based 18-year-olds in their last year of school remained flat but there were steep falls in applications from people in their 20s.
Combined with the lower level of EU applications since Brexit, it means 30,000 fewer applications overall, down from nearly 600,000 by the January application point last year.
The EU numbers were especially troubling after four years of 5%-7% growth in applications.
Applications from Ireland were down by 18%, although Mark Corver, Ucas’s director of analysis, cautioned that individual countries showed wide swings, with applications from Portugal up by 15%.
Last week Michael Arthur, the provost of University College London, said the national fall in applications was unevenly distributed.
“The respective numbers for UCL are quite different. We are up in UK by 5%, we are down in EU by just 0.8%, and we are up in overseas by 6.9%.
“So you begin to see the large variations that there will be across the country,” Arthur told MPs.
UCL’s experience has been replicated across institutions that demand higher A-level results for entry, including members of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.
But lower tariff universities, which admit students with Cs and Ds in A-levels and equivalent qualifications, have seen a 10% fall in applications.
Prof John Latham, vice-chancellor of , which has more than 2,000 EU students, said:
“The falls from UK and EU students suggest that universities may need to go more global, more quickly, but each is now going to have to look at its model.
“I am sure some will reduce in size and scale while others may increase their share.”
Nick Hillman, head of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said application numbers would improve when the current decline in the numbers of 18-year-olds in the population was reversed over the next decade.
“The woefully low entry rates among some groups, such as poor white working class males, also suggest there is plenty of room for improvement,” Hillman said.