The introduction of pre-registration nursing degree and diploma programmes in the United Kingdom has provoked considerable scrutiny of a range of issues such as funding arrangements, links between colleges of nursing and midwifery and higher education and the impact of the new courses on education and service provision Less attention has been devoted to the changing orientations and values of diploma and undergraduate students during their courses of study The parallel commencement in 1991 of 3-year undergraduate and diploma programmes in Leicestershire provided an opportunity to chart the changing orientations (personal, political, ethical, professional and academic) of two cohorts of students matched by age, gender and branch programme Research is being undertaken, a primary aim of which is to assess the changes that occur in these orientations over time and to relate these to the educational progression of the students through successive phases of their respective courses The focus of the research concerns the student's personal experience and developing insights into health, nursing and care delivery This paper seeks to provide an overview of the literature relevant to the study