UCAS figures last week showed that the number of applications received for Nursing courses in the UK has soared by 32% compared to last year’s cohort. A total of 48,830 applications were received for nursing courses in England alone, compared to 35,960 in 2020. This is despite a 40% reduction in EU applications pending Brexit uncertainties.
So why the sudden surge? One of the primary reasons has, of course, been the same thorn that has driven many of our decisions across the last year. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic caused havoc among students both in schools and universities, with students across the UK voicing their anger towards exam confusion, system downgrading and programme uncertainty. Yet, despite this, demand for nursing places has substantially grown. From the depths of the war on Covid-19 and the tragedy it has brought, we have also seen, in stark juxtaposition, the inspiring stories of healthcare workers on the front line. The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted how important nurses are to our society and, in many, ignited a desire to physically and mentally care for others. This so-called ‘Nightingale effect’ has seen the status of Nurses increase by distinguishing the demand and bravery associated with the role. The drafting of third-year nursing students into the workforce in the initial phase of the pandemic, in particular, showcased the need and contribution that even those who are not yet qualified can make. It seems that from such a challenging disease, a new wave of budding frontline workers has arisen.
However, even before Covid-19, the nursing student cohort had been increasing. Last year saw a 27% increase in the number of individuals accepting nursing course positions compared to 2019. This suggests that the ongoing threat of disease may have acted as a propellent for nursing students and particularly so in an aging and growing population where more youngsters may have observed their grandparents or parents receive healthcare.
It is not just the number of applications that has increased this year but also the diversity of students. Compared to 2020, this year’s applications have come from over 50% more 25 – 34-year-olds and 43% more over 35s. The ongoing rise could be further due to the Government’s 2020 initiative to offer a new training grant of at least £5000 with additional financial support to eligible Nursing students. This incentive has made the three-year degree and its associated placement time more financially feasible for some. The newly offered childcare support in particular may have allowed more mature students and parents to fulfil their dream of becoming a nurse.
It is also thought that interest has surged in light of the Government’s commitment to delivering 50,000 more much-needed nurses to the NHS. Nursing has historically been a popular and competitive course and the attraction of increased job opportunities may have dissolved some of the barriers and course rejection fears of 2021’s prospective students.
In addition, the nursing profession should be welcoming more men into their ranks, with a 41% increase in male applicants. Only time will tell whether this shake-up to the gender-stereotyped cast that encapsulates the field and the long-awaited surge in status that the role deserves are passing pandemic trends or whether they are here to stay.