Negative press this year about nursing workloads and pay had little impact on mid-year nursing school intakes – with some reporting an unexpected upswing in interest for 2019.
One school even thinks talk of action to remedy the major safe staffing and pay equity concerns highlighted by picketing and striking DHB nurses this year may boost rather than hurt nursing school enrolments for 2019.
Most schools with a mid-year intake are reporting business as usual, though one school experienced a downturn and another an upsurge on the previous year.
Clare Buckley, acting head of school for EIT’s nursing school, said applications for its February intake were “through the roof” and it was already three-quarters full. “Our admin team has never known anything like it so early on.”
Unitec’s head of nursing Dr Gwen Erlam said its enrolments for next year were also outstanding for September with just over a third (41) of its 120 places already full. Both schools said that media coverage of stressed nurses frustration at longstanding pay and safe staffing issues was not deterring students.
“We worked hard to turn that [publicity] into a positive,” said Buckley. “The fact that the DHB pay deal was moderately generous and that the DHBs are committed to increasing the staffing did mitigate a lot of the negativity. It was like nurses had been heard, things are going to change and suddenly it is more attractive.”
She said EIT had feared it might lose school-leaver enrolments to bigger centres as its free first-year fees (via its Year 13 scholarships) were no longer a drawcard, but that was not being an issue. Buckley also believed nursing should be being marketed as a modern profession for intelligent people wanting a lifelong career.
Erlam said nursing was a powerful profession and many students came to nursing because they, or someone they loved, had experienced being helped or cared for by nurses.
“They remember more about how somebody cared for them, or their loved one, then they will negative press about nursing,” said Erlam.
Dr Cathy Andrew, head of school for Ara Institute of Canterbury, said its mid-year intake – which started on the week of the DHB nursing strike – was the lowest in probably a decade. “Our timing was particularly bad – people were finalising their enrolments in the lead-up to the strike”.
The intake was about 20 students down on usual but a particularly large February intake meant total numbers for the year were not down on the previous year. She said it was a matter of wait and see whether the trend continued with the February enrolment which was only just opening – though there had been good enquiry interest in Ara’s joint graduate programme with the University of Canterbury.
In the centre of the country, Penny O’Leary, head of UCOL’s nursing school said its Palmerston North mid-year intake was actually up from 30 last year, though there had been a small decrease in its Whanganui intake, down from 19 to 16.
Erlam said Unitec’s mid-year intake was similar in size to its last July intake in 2016 but it had worked hard to get the 58 students particularly, under the direction of the Commissioner now running Unitec, seeking to boost its Pacific and Māori student numbers by visiting schools and reaching out to the community. She said Pacific made up 30 per cent of its February intake this year, which reflected the high Pacific population in the Waitakere area in which the school was based, and the school provided good support systems for its Pacific and Māori students.
Auckland University of Technology head Associate Professor Stephen Neville said it had been no sign of a downturn in interest in the mid-year intake. “I’m surprised, considering there’s been quite a bit of negative press about bullying etc. I expected we might have a dip.”
He said AUT usually had a waiting list for its February intake and had had no problems in filling its mid-year cohort, with the same level of interest as usual.
Likewise, Manukau Institute of Technology head Sandra Wilkinson said it had wondered how potential students would respond to nursing’s negative publicity, but its mid-year intake was similar to other years, usually around 100-110 students.
Dr Bev MacKay, head of NorthTec’s school said its mid-year intake was also much as usual and overall enrolments had been good after taking a one-off dip around 2015. Glennis Birks, undergraduate nursing manager for Wintec, also said its mid-year intake numbers were steady and pretty much the same as previous years.