Friday, January 29, 1999 Published at 13:07 GMT
Nurse degree applications up
Nurse training combines academic study with practical experience
Applications to study degrees in nursing have risen, despite fears that the profession is becoming intimidatingly academic.
Health Secretary Frank Dobson has pledged to make nurse training less academic and more ward-based to counter the nurse recruitment crisis.
But figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show a 2.9% rise on the number of applications last year.
The figures also buck the general trend of a fall in numbers wanting to enter the profession.
They show that 18,534 applications were received for UK nursing degree courses starting in 1999, a fact that the Royal College of Nursing described as "encouraging".
In contrast, numbers seeking to enter higher education as a whole fell by 1.8%, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service statistics show.
Recent changes in training have also been attacked for putting too much emphasis on academic qualifications and too little on practical skills.
This has been said to be intimidating to would-be nurses with less academic interest in the profession, and has led to fewer trainee nurses being available on the wards.
It is said to be one of the reasons behind the nurse recruitment crisis, which has led to 13,000 nurse vacancies in the NHS according to the RCN.
But Friday's figures suggest that more people are approaching nursing from an academic training.
Some 10% of nursing students do degree courses. The remainder study for diplomas. Applications for diploma places have fallen to the extent that in 1997 there were only just enough applicants to cover the available places.
"The great challenge is to ensure the aspirations of future nurses are met in terms of pay and career prospects.
"We've got to work on widening access to all nursing education, both at degree and diploma level."
However, many of the applicants may be disappointed, as their can be fierce competition for places.
King's College London is a leading centre for nurse training. Last year it received 555 applications for its four-year nursing studies degree. It had 40 places available.
Shortage of places
As the course places are funded by the NHS, it is up to the government to pay for extra places. Otherwise, the college has to pay to create more vacancies.
The college's three-year diploma course had 1,200 apllications for 340 places last year.
A spokeswoman for the college said that a similar situation was expected for 1999 entry.
The government has pledged to create an extra 6,000 nurse training places over the next three years.
It is not possible to read too much into the raw applications data. A small variation in the total number might be caused by individual students applying to more or fewer universities, as UCAS counts applications, not individual applicants.
Each person can submit an application for up to six courses, so those who decide to apply to less than the maximum will cause a decrease in the applications total.