UK Higher Education

The Story of the Nightingale Effect

The release of UCAS deadline data showing that the number of applications for Nursing courses has risen by 32% on the year before gave rise to a suite of headlines hailing this recent trend as the “Nightingale effect”. The suggestion is that students have been inspired the heroism of NHS staff and this has had a profound impact on their future ambitions.

So who are these Nursing applicants? What led them towards Nursing courses and how reliable a trend is the nightingale effect?

How did we get to such high numbers of Nursing applicants?

While applications may be up by 30%, the student journey towards making a higher education decision starts long before their UCAS application. Traffic to articles related to Nursing have seen increases of over 30% across the board, with the Whatuni article “8 reasons why you should study Nursing” seeing over 3X as many visits between September 15th 2020 and January 29th  2021 (from the end of Clearing until the UCAS deadline) as in the equivalent period the previous year.

Dates adjusted to reflect UCAS deadline extension

This increase in visits to article pages demonstrates that, in a period of uncertainty, students have been turning to trusted sources of information for advice on their higher education courses in even greater numbers. The fact that students researching Nursing has seen such an increase from the period before the COVID-19 pandemic is strong evidence that the last year has inspired students to look into Nursing courses.

It also shows that there may have been even greater interest in Nursing at the top of the funnel, with students either recognising that it is not the right course for them and continuing their research or doubling down with their intent.

Nursing applicants are more considered and more informed

Turning to the Whatuni course pages, we see an increase in the time students have spent reading the information across all subjects that again reflects students that are thoroughly researching their higher education options via trusted sources. However, there are differences in the time spent on a course page depending on the subject.

The average time spent on Nursing course pages on Whatuni has increased by 14% since last year, more than double average increase in time spent on other course pages of 6.55%. While students in general are spending longer researching the courses they are interested in, the intent is even stronger amongst those looking into Nursing. Students who go on from Whatuni to apply to Nursing are informed, committed, and aware of the requirements of their chosen course.

Trends within trends: Which courses specifically are students interested in?

The increase in Nursing applicants overall has taken the headline, but perhaps more revealing is which courses within Nursing have seen the biggest increase.

When we compare the page views for Nursing course pages between September 1st and January 29th between the past 2 years, we can see that all types of Nursing have seen an increase, but that Mental Health Nursing has seen almost double the increase in interest to Child Nursing, and almost 3 times the increase of Adult Nursing.

While Mental Health Nursing has seen the biggest increase, if we look at Nursing course views from 1st September 2020 to 29th January 2021 alone, we can see that Child Nursing remains the most popular subdiscipline within Nursing, with Mental Health Nursing just ahead of Adult Nursing in second and third respectively.

However, the dramatic increase in interest in Mental Health Nursing over the last application cycles reveal a growing trend towards not just Mental Health Nursing but also other courses related to mental health. A similar trend to the spike of interest in Mental Health Nursing was seen in wider Health and Medicine subject trends, with Psychology has seen the biggest increase this year.

This trend towards courses which have a caring element and a focus on mental health offers an interesting reflection on the incumbent student population. With the negative impact of COVID-19 and related restrictions on the public’s mental health well publicised, students may be combining both a desire to do good, and pragmatism, both inspired to help people and recognising a field where there will be a growing need for practitioners at a time when the economy is in decline.

It seems highly likely that students are increasingly choosing courses that will lead to careers where they feel they will be benefitting society, but also where they feel there is job security. A trend we can expect to see continue in the coming years.

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