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‘Extraordinary leap’ in nursing applications during Covid-19 pandemic

The tireless efforts of NHS staff during the coronavirus crisis has been the "best advert" for careers in health care, experts said, with nursing applications rising by a third
More than 60,000 people want to start studying nursing later this year. Image: Anna Shvets

More than 60,000 people applied to join the fight against Covid-19 through nursing, according to UCAS figures for applications to colleges and universities.

Total applications for nursing courses, submitted between summer 2020 and the end of January 2021, rose by nearly a third compared to last January’s deadline. The “surge” in interest for nursing courses starting this autumn was from people of all ages.

The “tireless and outstanding commitment” of nurses during the pandemic had been the “best possible advert for the nursing profession,” said Professor Mark Radford, chief nurse at Health Education England.

“To see applications rise for the third year running, and by such an extraordinary leap, is really wonderful news,” he added. 

There were a record 16,560 applications from 18-year-old school leavers, 27 per cent more than last year.

And for the first time ever, more than 10,000 students aged over 35 applied to study nursing, with a 39 per cent rise on last year taking total applications from that group to 10,770.

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There was a bigger increase in the number of men applying to study nursing than women. UCAS recorded a 40 per cent rise in male applications compared to 32 per cent among women.

“This surge in interest from people – of all ages – wanting to study nursing is incredible, and is great news for the public and the health service,” said Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England.

“During Covid-19, the level of interest in working for the NHS has trumped lots of other careers options, and that speaks volumes about how people recognise our profession, particularly following our most challenging year,” she added.

The number of people reapplying to study nursing also grew by nearly 23 per cent, according to the data.

Applications were up across all subjects, with nearly 43 per cent of the entire 18-year-old population in the UK applying for college or university. This is the first time more than two fifths of young people in the country have applied, despite uncertainty around online learning and social distancing at universities when the autumn semester begins.

“Applications are buoyant as students plan their futures for life after lockdown,” UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant said. 

Universities and colleges are likely to hand out a high number of offers, as they have in recent years, because they “have several months to plan and be flexible,” Marchant added.

But Brexit’s impact on applications is clear in the data, with applications from people in the EU dropping by 40 per cent since last year to 26,010 applications in total.