UK

Record number seek to study nursing after being inspired by NHS heroics during Covid-19 heroics

Boost for NHS as 60,000 apply to be nurses: Pandemic prompts students to turn their backs on history, languages and philosophy and flock to ‘safe’ careers like doctors, dentists and engineers

  • Sign ups rose by 32 per cent this year to a total of 60,130 applicants, says UCAS
  • Number of those opting for nursing straight after leaving school has increased by 27 per cent while number of mature students applying surged by 39 per cent
  • However, experts warn boost is not of the scale that is needed to fill all vacancies

Record numbers have applied to study nursing after being inspired by the heroics of the NHS during the pandemic.

Sign ups surged by almost a third (32 per cent) this year to a total of 60,130 applicants, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

The shift has seen thousands of students turning their backs on subjects such as history, languages and philosophy.

The move suggests many are looking for more concrete, ‘safer’ career paths following the economic turmoil the last 12 months has brought. 

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told the Times: ‘We could very well see these trends maintained for a while. 

‘We are presumably headed for a Covid-linked recession, and that can push people towards public service jobs. For example you still need teachers. Caring jobs are more in demand than ever.

‘There is a sense that technology may eat away at other jobs, such as middle management. But caring professions are likely to continue being in demand.’

Mr Hillman added that the effects of the pandemic had changed the perception of nursing, and that it was now being seen as a ‘prestigious career’, following a huge dip in applications following the removal of bursaries in 2017. 

Mike Adams, director for England at the Royal College of Nursing, hailed the figures, which will go some way to combatting the staff shortages that afflict much of the NHS.

The number of applications to study nursing has surged by 32 per cent compared to last year as the heroics of NHS workers inspire a generation to seek careers in the health service

‘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’, he said.

‘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.’

However Mr Adams warned that the boost is ‘still not at the scale that is needed’ and even greater efforts would be required to fill all vacant nursing jobs.

There are currently no Government caps on university nursing places.

The number of those opting for nursing straight after leaving school has increased by 27 per cent from last year to a record 16,560.

And more than 10,000 mature students aged 35 or over want to study the subject this year – a rise of 39 per cent on 2020.

Both the number of applications from those straight out of school and the number of mature students applying to study nursing have increased by 27 per cent and 39 per cent respectively

Both the number of applications from those straight out of school and the number of mature students applying to study nursing have increased by 27 per cent and 39 per cent respectively

Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said there had been a ‘Nightingale effect’, which ‘speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year’.

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.’

Overall, a record 42.6 per cent of all UK 18 year olds applied to university. And while applications from the EU have plunged, the number of students wanting to come to the UK from the rest of the world has grown dramatically.

Ucas said the number of EU applicants to study at British universities fell by 40 per cent to 26,010 over the past year, but a record 85,610 people from non-EU countries are hoping to study here – up 17 per cent in 12 months.

Other subjects that have seen a growth in popularity include dentistry, sports science, veterinary science and education.

Agriculture has also seen a rise in applications, indicating that a return to the land – and the desire to escape from the often cramped conditions of Covid lockdowns to the countryside – may have played a part in their choice.

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