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Falling nursing student applications ‘deeply concerning’ for future of profession

13 Jul 2023

Fewer people choosing to study nursing deepens the workforce crisis, says the RCN in response to UCAS figures.

Nursing graduate

The overall number of applicants to nursing courses in the UK has dropped by 16%* compared to last year, according to UCAS data. The data reports on the number of provisional applicants to nursing courses in the UK and for each of the home nations for the 2023 application cycle. 

  • Figures for England show there were 31,430 applicants. A fall of 16% from 2022. 
  • Figures for Scotland show there were 4,860 applicants. A fall of 16% from 2022. 
  • Figures for Wales show there were 1,650 applicants. A fall of 27% from 2022. 
  • Figures for Northern Ireland show there were 1,960 applicants. A fall of 20% from 2022. 

The data comes amidst the nursing workforce crisis, where to tackle extreme staff shortages, significant workforce expansion is needed. Instead, we’re seeing a sharp decline in people interested in joining the profession.  

RCN General Secretary & Chief Executive Pat Cullen said: “It is deeply concerning to see the number of people applying to study nursing falling again – a clear result of the way the profession has been treated by those in power. 

“Compared to last year, this year has seen 17%** fewer people living in the UK applying to nursing courses, and a drop of just over a quarter since the pandemic saw a surge in applications in 2021. 

“The nursing workforce remains in crisis, with record numbers forced to take time off due to stress and exhaustion and thousands leaving the profession every year. Now we are seeing this failure to invest in the workforce of today is putting off the nurses of tomorrow.” 

In England, the recently published NHS Long Term Workforce Plan outlines an ambition to significantly increase the number of people undertaking nursing degrees. “Today's news shows the task ahead will be even harder than expected, as less people are applying now,” said Pat.  

The RCN believes there are likely several factors that have contributed to the figures falling, from continued below inflation pay rises to the UK government’s failure to address concerns of adequate financial support for students.  

"Paying nurses fairly and providing access to financial support for tuition fees will not only help with the growing cost of living for those choosing to begin the path to the profession but also make it more attractive to join. 

“Urgent action is needed now, or university places will go unfulfilled, vacant posts will remain empty and patient care will continue to be at risk,” said Pat.  

*This figure relates to number of applicants to nursing degrees across the UK, by people living in the UK and internationally, compared to 2022. 

**This figure relates to the number of applicants domiciled in the UK only, which decreased by 17% compared to 2022. 


Page last updated - 11/12/2023