Applicants for medicine degrees fall for third year running

The number of applicants to study medicine degrees in the UK has fallen for the third consecutive year, largely driven by declining interest from re-appliers and EU students.

A total of 19,210 applications were made for medicine courses starting in 2017 through online service UCAS, almost 900 (4%) fewer than the year before.

This continues an annual trend of falling interest in pursuing medical careers in the UK, with the number of applicants now 16% lower than those observed three years ago during the 2014 cycle.

The tail-off comes after health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced earlier this month that he would increase the number of medical school places by 1,500 for the next cohort of applicants, who will apply next October for courses starting 2018.

He later admitted that he had elected not to prioritise investment in doctor training during his four-year tenure as health secretary.

Medical school places

Despite the overall decrease, the statistics reveal that the number of 18-year-olds applying for medicine degrees increased by 5% over last year, following a wider trend of more school-leavers applying for university courses.

But this was accompanied by a heavy fall in the number of re-appliers – students who missed out on a medical school place during their previous attempts – which dropped off by 11%.

Against the backdrop of the vote for Brexit, the number of EU students fell the most significantly, with 16% fewer applying for UK places. The number of EU applicants has remained broadly consistent over previous years.

Taking only UK students into account, there were 2% fewer applications for medicine degrees, while the number of overseas students fell by 6%.

Medical schools tend to make offers to between 7,500 and 8,000 students a year, suggesting they still have plenty of students to fill all remaining places despite the drop-off in applications and assuming most meet the entry requirements.

The data comes as UCAS released data for all ‘early deadline’ courses, which, along with medicine,  includes dentistry and veterinary degrees and all courses at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford.

Doctor careers

Senior GPs warned earlier in the year that the number of applicants for medicine degrees  could fall further following the slew of negative press levied against doctors and the prominent dispute between the government and junior doctors over working conditions.

‘All of these things add up together,’ GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said. ‘The regular impression in the lay media that new students will be receiving is that doctors are not appreciated and valued by their employer, they are given huge workloads, asked to work unreasonable hours and are receiving remuneration that is less than would be expected in other career paths.

‘So I think we do need to take these warning signs seriously, and can't assume that – as has been the case for many, many years – that the brightest and best students will be wanting to become doctors.’

Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said: ‘This is an encouraging increase in applicants [among those aged 18] to the October deadline courses, particularly given the 2% decrease in the 18-year-old population.

‘We will be watching the numbers of EU applications in the run up to the January deadline, especially now that the government has confirmed arrangements for continuing access to student loans for 2017 courses.’

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