Degree courses training our next generation of health and social care professionals are continuing to accept applications, and new UCAS insight shows students from all walks of life will receive a warm welcome.
Posted Tue 23 June 2020 - 00:01

Nursing and social work degrees have the most diverse pool of applicants compared to other major undergraduate subject areas.

Health and social care courses are among the subjects attracting the highest proportion of applications and acceptances from black applicants, mature students, and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Many courses still have vacancies for the next academic year, and are ready to welcome qualified applicants from all backgrounds – preparing them for rewarding future careers.

New analysis from UCAS shows:

  • In 2019, social work had the highest proportion of applicants from the black ethnic group (21%) of any subject, followed by nursing (20%).
  • Social work and nursing are also among the subjects with the highest proportion of acceptances from the black ethnic group, with 23% and 19% respectively.
  • For all subjects allied to medicine, 16% of acceptances are from students from the black ethnic group (the highest proportion for any wider subject group), followed by social studies courses, with 13%.
  • 42% of students accepted onto social work courses are aged over 30, the highest proportion of any subject. Nursing courses are second, with 29% of acceptances from students in this age group.
  • Social work is the only subject (with more than 150 applicants) that has more students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying (1,055 applicants), than from the most advantaged backgrounds (1,000 applicants). This a ratio of just 0.94 applicants from advantaged backgrounds for each disadvantaged applicant – the lowest ratio of all subjects.
  • Nursing follows with a ratio of 1.12, with 2,100 applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, alongside 2,350 from the most advantaged backgrounds. Both subjects have similar patterns of accepting students from a wide range of backgrounds.
  • While male applicants remain in the minority, the number of men applying for nursing grew by 8.5% to 5,370, with the number of acceptances also growing (by 7.1% to 2,700).

There are still vacancies on health and social care courses across the UK for autumn starts. Around 40% of adult nursing and social work courses are still accepting applications in the 2020 cycle to start in September or October, with some universities having up to 50 places available. Courses in mental health, child, and learning disability nursing are also among the healthcare subjects with vacancies. With the Government recently announcing 5,000 additional places for nursing, midwifery, and allied health courses, these numbers are likely to increase.

To support anyone thinking of applying, UCAS is hosting a Facebook Live Q&A event on Thursday 25 June at 16:00 (UK time) with Mark Radford, Chief Nurse for Health Education England.

In 2019, 15% of nursing applications were made between the 15 January and 30 June deadlines, compared to 12% of applications overall. UCAS analysis has previously shown that mature applicants are more likely to apply in the summer months than those leaving school, and application rates for the mature population reflect the job market buoyancy, which is likely to be impacted in the near future with the economy contracting in April.

Matt Hancock, Health and Social Care Secretary, said: ‘This coronavirus pandemic has reinforced the fact that nursing is a life-changing career, and has shown just how cherished our health and care frontline workers are.

‘It is excellent to see that these courses attract people from all backgrounds, and I urge anyone considering a rewarding career in nursing to apply and get started this year.’

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘The life-changing work of health and social care professionals has never been more celebrated. Inspirational stories of nurses and social workers tirelessly caring for us and helping keep us safe during the pandemic have rightly meant that the public have voiced their support more than ever during lockdown.

‘The stars are now aligned for more people to embark on one of the most rewarding careers, and our new insights show how welcoming the health and social care sector is to people of all walks of life. The chance to start studying at a time when our universities are making huge contributions to fighting coronavirus is an exciting prospect for any caring, compassionate, and ambitious individual.’

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, said: ‘The whole country is indebted to the incredible work of the NHS’ committed and diverse frontline workers, and if you have been inspired by their effort, there are nursing degree vacancies for the next academic year, so please come forward and begin your career in the NHS.’

Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse, Health Education England, said: ‘I would encourage anyone to think about joining the profession I am so proud to be part of. The expertise and flexibility of our nurses whilst working during the pandemic has shown you can deliver safe, quality, compassionate care to patients even when under unprecedented pressure. They are a credit to our profession, and I would say don’t delay, don’t wait until Clearing, apply today to train to become a nurse to make a difference to the lives of individuals, families, and communities across the country.’

Mark Harvey and Fran Leddra, Chief Social Workers for Adults [England], said: ‘We are so pleased to see that social work is the most diverse undergraduate course in terms of race, background, and age. Equality and inclusion are core values of social work and integral to its purpose to uphold human rights and promote social justice. As chief social workers, we are committed to ensuring our workforce is reflective of the people we serve and the communities they live in.

‘Now more than ever, we welcome you to join us in a rewarding career in social work that can support people to live fulfilling lives and create lasting change in our communities and society.’

In total, a record 30,390 students were accepted onto nursing courses in 2019. As of the 15 January deadline in the 2020 cycle, applicant numbers were up 6% to 45,430.


UCAS Press Office

01242 545 469


Notes for editors

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is an independent charity, and the UK's shared admissions service for higher education. We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 370 universities and colleges across the UK.

‘Nursing’ refers to courses allocated to line B7 in JACS subject classification, ‘social work’ refers to courses allocated L5, and ‘subjects allied to medicine’ refers to all courses in Group B (a wider subject group).

Application statistics are based on the 2019 UCAS undergraduate application cycle. When analysing applicants by age, detailed subject groups with more than 250 applicants from all domiciles were considered. When analysing applicants’ ethnic groups, UK applicants were considered. When analysing applicants by measure of advantage and disadvantage, detailed subject groups with more than 150 UK 18 year old applicants were considered. The measure of advantage/disadvantage used is POLAR4

Social work has the lowest POLAR4 acceptance ratio (0.69) of any detailed subject group with more than 100 UK 18 year old acceptances. Nursing has a POLAR4 ratio of 1.13, the sixth lowest.

In 2019, 12% (76,990) of all applicants applied by the 15 October deadline, 76% (484,270) by the 15 January deadline, and 12% (76,690) by the 30 June deadline. For nursing applicants specifically, 5% (2,670) by 15 October, 80% (40,960) by 15 January, and 15% (7,890) by 30 June.

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