Despite a major shortage, the number of nursing students has fallen again

The number of new nursing students has decreased significantly since a peak two years ago. According toStatistics Netherlands, there was a 20% drop in MBO-level nursing students and a 26% decrease at HBO-level, compared to the peak period.

The influx of Individual Healthcare (IG) student nurses fell by a third. At the beginning of this academic year, about 9,000 people enrolled in MBO nursing programs, and nearly 7,000 started HBO nursing courses, down from 11,000 and 9,000, respectively, two years prior. Statistics Netherlands attributed the previous peak to heightened awarenessof healthcare staff shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Impact on higher education and pedagogical studies
Approximately 45,000 students began intermediate (MBO) and higher (HBO) professional education for healthcare and welfare jobs at the end of the academic year, down from 48,000 between 2021 and 2022. However, while courses in nursing were less popular, other subjects grew. The number of new MBO students in pedagogical work increased, for example. Over 14,000 people started vocational education in this field, a 19% rise from two yearsearlier. Interest in pedagogy at the HBO level also increased slightly, with the number of bachelor’s program students rising from 2,400 to 2,500. Despite the growing need for healthcare staff, fewer young people are choosingcareers as nurses or caregivers.

Causes and future outlook
The decline in nursing IG training is particularly concerning, said Hendrik-Jan van Arenthals, chairman of MBO Scalda’s executive board. ‘Especially if you compare that trend to the need for healthcare personnel in Zeeland.’ He notes that the overall student population in Zeeland has also decreased, impacting healthcare course enrollments.Over five years, the percentage of MBO students choosing nursing has increased slightly, but the nursing IG training numbers have significantly declined.

Van Arenthals attributes the decline to multiple factors. ‘The healthcare sector received a boost after Covid, because there was a lot of attention for it. But that has now worn off. In addition, due to the scarcity of staff in practice, it issometimes difficult to properly supervise trainees. Everyone agrees that you have to invest in young people; it sometimes works differently in practice. When the schedule has to be made for next Monday, there are suddenlythree sick employees and two interns. And then things become difficult, which will have an effect on student numbers.’

HZ has also experienced a decline in enrollments in HBO nursing courses, dropping from 237 students in 2017 to 146 in 2023. According to Barbara Oomen, chair of the Executive Board, several factors contribute to this decrease,including a shrinking youth population in Zeeland, fewer young people opting for higher professional education, the impact of the pandemic, and reports of high work pressure negatively impacting the profession’s image.

Despite the challenges, there is a positive outlook: HZ has 169 registrations for the upcoming academic year, upfrom last year. The increase is mainly in part-time students, with registrations rising from 20 last year to 31 this year. These part-time students often include those making career changes or those who have already completed an MBO course in healthcare and now wish to advance their studies.

HZ, Scalda and Zeeland healthcare institutions are collaborating on internships, training program updates andstudent guidance. Oomen emphasized the importance of not offering students contracts before graduation to attract more individuals to these essential professions, but with the right skills. ‘There is a great temptation to offer students a contract before the end of their studies, but we have agreed not to do that. We need to attract as many people aspossible to these great professions, with good skills. We all feel that responsibility,’ concludes Oomen.

Written by Nicole Bea Kerr