Over 60,000 people are keen to be part of the fightback against coronavirus and embark on a career in nursing according to latest university application statistics, published today by UCAS.
Posted Thu 18 February 2021 - 00:01

29 January 2021 was the equal consideration deadline for full-time undergraduate applications for university and college courses that start this coming autumn. This year the deadline was extended from 15 to 29 January to give students and teachers two extra weeks many of them needed following the move back to online learning.

Total applications for nursing courses have risen by almost a third (32%) to reach 60,130, with increases seen in each age group – from UK 18 year old school leavers (a record 16,560 applicants, up 27% on 2020) to mature students aged 35 and over, where for the first time over 10,000 (10,770, a 39% rise) have applied.

Further analysis of today’s figures for applications covering all subjects show:

  • 306,200 UK 18 year olds have applied, an increase of 11% on 2020. These applicants represent 42.6% of the 18 year old population, meaning this is the first year that more than 2/5 of young people have applied.
  • Mature applicants (those aged 21 and over) from the UK have risen by 24% to 96,390. Previous UCAS research has shown applications from older age groups are also prone to increase when the economy is not as strong.
  • The largest proportional increase in UK applicants by their declared ethnic group has come from black and mixed race students, both up 15% to 40,690 and 25,830 respectively. Applicants from the Asian ethnic group have increased by 10% to 70,140, while 11% more white students (to a total of 352,170) have applied.
  • More than a quarter of 18 year old students from the most disadvantaged areas (26.4% from quintile 1 of the UK using the POLAR4 measure, 33,960 students) have applied, up from 24.5% at the same point in 2020.
  • Applicants from outside of the EU continue to rise and are up this year by 17% to a record 85,610. Applicants from China and India have increased to 25,810 (+21%) and 7,820 (+25%) respectively. The USA has seen the largest proportional increase of any major nation as applicant numbers have risen 61% to 6,670.
  • EU applicant numbers have decreased to 26,010 (-40%) as the short term effects and uncertainty at the end of the last calendar year surrounding the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and changes to student support arrangements, have impacted on applications from the continent. However, applicants from Ireland have increased by 26% to reach 4,850.

Overall, a total of 616,360 people had applied, an increase of 8.5% and a new record for this point in the application cycle.

View the January 2021 deadline applicant figures dashboard

Clare Marchant, UCAS Chief Executive, 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. We expect offer rates to remain at the high levels of recent years as universities and colleges have several months to plan and be flexible to accommodate the increase in applicants.

“Many students will also have been inspired by last week’s National Apprenticeship Week and be looking at that route in parallel with an undergraduate application to keep their options open.”

Ruth May, Chief Nursing Officer for NHS England, said: 

“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.

“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.

“We hope that we can inspire even more people to consider a rewarding career in the NHS in the near future – if you are interested, please have a look at the many opportunities that are available.”

Professor Mark Radford, Chief Nurse, Health Education England, said: "To see applications rise for the third year running, and by such an extraordinary leap, is really wonderful news.

"The tireless and outstanding commitment of all our nurses over the past year – from students and practising professionals to those who've returned to work to help with the pandemic response – is the best possible advert for the nursing profession.

"We will work with our outstanding universities to welcome and support many thousands of new recruits to embark on this amazing and truly rewarding career."

Applications for undergraduate courses can continue to be made until the end of June, provided universities and colleges have indicated there are places available. Additionally, applicants can apply direct to Clearing over the course of the summer.

For most higher education courses, an application must be submitted to UCAS by 18:00 on 29 January, to guarantee it will receive equal consideration by universities and colleges. With over 98% of main scheme UK 18 year old applicants (and over 85% of all main scheme applicants) applying by the January deadline last year, these statistics provide a reliable reference point for demand each year.


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 380 universities and colleges across the UK.

All figures are compared to equal consideration deadlines of previous years. Therefore, the figures as of the extended deadline of 29 January 2021 are analysed against applicant figures as of 15 January in all previous cycles to provide the most reliable insight possible. The number of new applicants between 15 and 29 January in years prior to 2021 (fewer than 10,000 in 2020) are unlikely to be substantial enough to alter trends identified.

In Scotland, there is a substantial section of higher education that is not included in UCAS' figures. This is mostly full-time higher education, provided in further education colleges, which represents around one third of young, full-time undergraduate study in Scotland – this proportion varies by geography and background within Scotland. Accordingly, figures on applications, and application rates in Scotland, reflect only those applying for full-time undergraduate study through UCAS.

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