Record numbers of people are applying to study nursing in the UK - these are the routes into the profession

Record numbers of people are applying to study nursing in the UK - these are the routes into the profession (Photo: Shutterstock)Record numbers of people are applying to study nursing in the UK - these are the routes into the profession (Photo: Shutterstock)
Record numbers of people are applying to study nursing in the UK - these are the routes into the profession (Photo: Shutterstock)

Nursing courses at UK universities have seen a record number of applicants amid the coronavirus pandemic, new figures reveal.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) chief executive, Clare Marchant, said “inspiring stories” from wards over the past year led to a surge of almost a third (32 per cent) in the number of applications for nursing courses.

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A record 60,000 applicants

The latest UCAS figures showed the number of applicants for nursing rose to 60,130 by the main 29 January application deadline.

There has also been rises in each age group, with the number of UK school leavers opting for nursing now a record 16,560, an increase of 27 per cent from last year. More than 10,000 mature students aged 35 or over have applied to study nursing for the first time this year, a rise of 39 per cent in 2020.

However, the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union is visible in the UCAS figures, with the new statistics suggesting a fall in the number of EU applicants to all subjects at UK universities of 40 per cent.

Ms Marchant 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.”

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Ruth May, chief nursing officer for NHS England, said: “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.

“The NHS has run the biggest recruitment drive in our history through our ‘We are the NHS campaign’, while we hear time and again how inspired people have been by the extraordinary efforts of nurses and other colleagues in the Covid response this year.”

Routes into nursing in the UK

There are several routes to becoming a nurse in the UK. The main entry into the profession is by obtaining a nursing degree. However, there are other practical hands on experiences which can lead into a career.

Those looking to become a nurse should consider which nursing field they might eventually want to work in. The four fields are adult nursing, children’s nursing, learning disability nursing, and mental health nursing. The NHS Health Careers website has useful information on all of these specialisms.

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Studying for a nursing degree will allow you to be able to work as a nurse anywhere in the UK and even internationally. Some degrees will allow you to study in two fields, and courses are available for full-time and part-time studying. Some universities are offering online courses in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

You can use this useful course finder tool to find a list of nursing courses offered in the UK.

Nursing degree apprenticeships

Those looking to balance a degree in nursing and their current work life, can train via nursing degree apprenticeships. These offer flexible routes to becoming a nurse that don’t require full-time study at university.

You will need to secure a position as a nursing degree apprentice and your employer will then release you to study at university on a part-time basis. You will train in a range of practice placement settings.

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Most apprenticeships take four years, and entry requirements typically include a level 3 qualification. If you already have a level 5 qualification as a nursing associate or assistant practitioner, it will reduce the length of the apprenticeship, sometimes to two years.

Vacancies for nursing degree apprenticeships are advertised on the NHS Jobs website and the Government Find An Apprenticeship website.

Entry requirements for nursing

The qualifications required for nursing degrees vary because each university sets its own entry criteria, so be sure to check your chosen institution’s website to see its entry requirements.

However, an applicant in England normally requires at least two A-Levels or equivalent qualifications at level 3, plus supporting GCSEs, including English, maths and a science (usually biology or human biology).

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Courses will often specify preferred or essential subjects at A-Level or equivalent qualification, such as one science, or social science.

A-Levels are not mandatory, but to gain a university degree you will need some recognised level 3 qualification alternative.

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