Why should we be encouraging international students to study nursing?

This week’s blog is written by Rhian Stevens (@rhianstevens1), Lecturer in Nursing (Child Field and International) at the University of Birmingham. In the blog, Rhian reflects on why we should be encouraging international students to study pre-registration nursing.

Why should we be encouraging international students to study nursing?

Students are increasingly looking to study abroad and the UK has seen a consistent yearly increase in enrolment in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. In 2019/20 556,625 non-UK students enrolled into higher education in the UK (HESA 2021a). The drive to study internationally is probably due to a growing demand from students for higher education and the attractiveness of some countries including the UK to deliver this. Higher Education Institutions (HEI) are keen to encourage this demand to attract talented student groups, and to support student enrolment and revenues. Nursing is a discipline seeing an increase in foreign-born students, although specific numbers enrolling onto pre-registration programme is not known. The HESA (2021b) reported that in 19/20 there were 5150 international students enrolled into first year full time undergraduate programme in subject that were allied to medicine, which includes pre-registration nursing students.  The potential benefits to the profession of international students, include increasing the size of the healthcare workforce, improved cultural diversity of the nursing profession and the opportunity to share new ideas to improve patient practice.

Why is it a good thing?

Nursing is a profession that is innovative.  Providing the future workforce with the opportunity to develop their skills and achieve personal ambitions can increase personal satisfaction and allow for a wealth of opportunities to increase knowledge that improves patient care and outcome. An increased understanding of the world can produce a workforce that has the ability to function locally and globally. Internationally, nursing differs in terms of knowledge base, regulations and education standards, health care systems, nursing practice and cultural values. Having a career routed in international experience and knowledge may provide key skills to develop the services the student goes on to work in. To work and live internationally involves being aware of not only your own societal needs, but also requires you to be adaptable to alternative viewpoints.  With a demand growing for students to come to UK to train to be nurses encouraging this may create a workforce that is engaged and possesses the ability to make changes in their work environment that improves patient care and outcomes wherever they choose to work in the UK once qualified or elsewhere.

Additional student needs

Nursing programmes are demanding and can affect the well-being of a student (HEE 2019).  The challenges for international students may be greater due to the additional adaptions they are required to make such as living in a new country, financial concerns, discrimination, loss of social support and unfamiliarly with education and health system. Universities need to make sure support is available for this group of students. One factor fundamental to promoting the welfare and success of international students is ensuring they are connected to their new community. Isolated students do not succeed. The HEI needs fosters opportunity for students to mix and come to know each other in and outside the classroom. A global workforce needs to be well educated and the curriculum needs to be diverse to ensure possible fitness to practice outside the UK while meeting the NMC (2018) standards for pre-registration programmes. If HEI’s are considering increasing enrolment onto pre-registration nursing programmes with international students’ they need to ensure students have achieved appropriate qualification for entry. The NMC do not stipulate a minimum standard of English and Maths for international pre-registration students, but HEI’S do need to evidence how they ensured they meet the NMC (2018) Selection Admission and Progression Standards to gain entry.


HEE (2019). Executive summary of the report of NHS Staff and Learners’ Mental Wellbeing Commission Accessed 13/1/21 Available at: https://www.hee.nhs.uk/sites/default/files/documents/NHS%20%28HEE%29%20-%20Mental%20Wellbeing%20Commission%20Report%20%28Summary%29.pdf

HESA (2021) Where do HE students come from HESA Accessed 13/1/21 Available at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/where-from#non-uk

HESA (2021b), What do HE students study? HESA Accessed 14/1/21 Available at: https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/what-study

NMC (2018) Standard for pre-registration nurse programmes NMC Accessed 13/1/21 Available at: https://www.nmc.org.uk/standards/standards-for-nurses/standards-for-pre-registration-nursing-programmes/




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