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Introduction - Higher Education Statistics for the UK 2015/16

The Higher Education Statistics for the UK introduction includes the following sections: Student and qualifiers | Destinations | Staff | Finance

Our Higher Education Statistics for the UK publication is released in sections over the course of the year. It includes student, staff, finance and destinations data collected by HESA. It also includes student loan information from the Student Loans Company (SLC), participation rates from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) plus contextual population statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In 2015/16, there were 162 publicly funded UK higher education providers. HESA holds data on these HE providers plus the privately funded HE provider, The University of Buckingham. This publication collects together data about these providers.

Higher Education can also happen in other forums.  Students can register for higher education study at Further Education (FE) Colleges and also Alternative Providers (AP).  A summary of this data is included in Table A.

APs are HE providers who do not receive recurrent funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) or other public bodies and who are not further education colleges. Eligible students can access loans and grants from the Student Loans Company on specific courses, referred to as designated courses. Experimental statistics about undergraduate students on designated courses at APs, collected from 2014/15, are included in the introduction Table A. In 2015/16, HESA has collected data from 97 APs (63 in 2014/15) which fall within the coverage of the HESA AP student record.

Student population

There were 2.3 million students studying at HE level at UK HE providers in 2015/16. The data for full-time and sandwich first degree students shows a steady increase over the last 5 years, resulting in a 5.8% rise since 2011/12 and 3.6% since 2014/15. In contrast, the total number of HE students studying at UK HE providers fell every year between 2011/12 and 2014/15, but rose slightly in 2015/16. Overall since 2011/12 the percentage change was -8.6% which reflects a general decline in part-time study over the period and also coincides with the changes to the tuition fee arrangements introduced for undergraduates starting courses from 2012/13. However since 2014/15 the total number of HE students has risen by 0.7%.

Table A provides more detail on students by level of study with comparisons between full-time and part-time, where full-time includes those following a full-time or sandwich programme. Since 2011/12, there has been a considerable drop in both full-time (-53.4%) and part-time (-52.1%) other undergraduate students. This may be in part because several HE providers re-classified their nursing courses from a diploma of HE to a first degree during this time (see Data Intelligence). For part-time postgraduate students the percentage change since 2014/15 was -2.1% compared with -12.1% percentage change since 2011/12.

Equivalent information on students studying at further education level can be found in the current Statistical First Release from the Skills Funding Agency and the Department for Education (previously published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills).

Over half (60.9%) of the 2,280,830 HE students were following a full-time first degree programme. The following pie chart illustrates the breakdown of HE students by level and mode of study.

Chart 1 - HE students by level of study and mode of study 2015/16

Sex and domicile

56.5% of all students studying at UK HE providers were female, 43.5% were male. The difference was more noticeable among students studying part-time of whom 60.4% were female and 39.5% were male.

Table B illustrates the differences in student numbers by level of study, mode of study, domicile and sex.

Subject of study

Table C shows that the distribution of HE student numbers by subject area varied by level of study.

For both postgraduate and first degree students, the highest percentages were studying Business & administrative studies (18.4% and 13.5% respectively). Postgraduate students also had a high percentage of students studying Education, which includes PGCEs, representing 14.2% of the total. 46.2% of first degree students were studying a Science-related subject. A significant percentage of other undergraduate students studied Subjects allied to medicine (29.4%) and Education (12.6%). The high percentage in Subjects allied to medicine can be explained because a qualification below first degree level is common in many health-related professions, especially nursing. Many Open University students may not initially have to declare their award intention and are reported as studying for institutional credit in the Combined subject area.

Chart 2 below provides the numbers of HE students by subject area and level of study.

Chart 2 - HE students by subject area** and level of study 2015/16

Qualifications obtained

In 2015/16 a total of 742,730 qualifications were awarded at HE level to students at UK HE providers. Of these, just over a third (35.3%) were at postgraduate level, 53.8% were first degree qualifications and 10.9% were other undergraduate qualifications. Chart 3 illustrates this.

2015/16 saw a 1.1% rise in the total number of first degree qualifiers, however the number of first degree qualifiers is still 2.3% higher than in 2011/12. Table D provides a more detailed breakdown of qualifications obtained for the last five years.

Chart 3 - HE qualifiers by level of qualification obtained 2015/16

Destinations of leavers

The DLHE survey includes those qualifiers who completed their programmes during the academic year 2015/16. The reference date for those obtaining the qualification between 1 August 2015 and 31 December 2015 was 14 April 2016, and the reference date for those obtaining the qualification between 1 January 2016 and 31 July 2016 was 12 January 2017.

In 2015/16, of the 529,445 UK and other EU domiciled leavers within the eligible DLHE population, there were 394,305 qualifiers who provided information about their destinations. This gives a percentage with known destination of 74.5% (75.6% in 2014/15). A further 17,995 qualifiers (16,840 in 2014/15) replied to the survey but explicitly declined to give information. Including the explicit refusals, the overall response rate for UK and other EU domiciled qualifiers was 77.9% (78.7% in 2014/15). Table E provides a breakdown of leavers’ activity by level of qualification obtained.

Overall, 90.7% of leavers from UK HEPs in 2015/16 went on to work and/or further study six months after graduating.

The following pie charts show comparatively the percentage of leavers by activity for postgraduate, first degree, other undergraduate and all leavers. Over two-thirds (70.9%) of postgraduate leavers entered full-time work. The percentage was over half for first degree students (55.7%) and just under half for other undergraduates (40.3%). First degree leavers were more likely to be unemployed (5.4%) than postgraduates (4.1%) and other undergraduates (3.5%). Over a third of other undergraduates were engaged in study, either through a combination of work and further study (12.5%) or further study (25.5%).

Chart 4a - Destination of postgraduate leavers by activity 2015/16

Chart 4b - Destination of first degree leavers by activity 2015/16

Chart 4c - Destination of other undergraduate leavers by activity 2015/16

Chart 4d - Destination of all leavers by activity 2015/16

Table F and Chart 5 show how the distribution of leavers by activity varies for each subject area for full-time first degree leavers. Unemployment rates for full-time first degree leavers whose destinations were known varied between subjects, ranging from those which have traditionally low rates of unemployment, such as Medicine & dentistry (0.3%), Veterinary science (1.6%), Subjects allied to medicine (2.1%) and Education (2.5%) to those with higher rates of unemployment, such as Computer science (9.5%), Mass communications & documentation (7.9%), and Engineering & technology (7.3%). For all full-time first degree leavers, the percentage unemployed was 5.4%.

Full-time first degree leavers having studied Law were the most likely to be engaged in some form of further study (including work and further study, 43.6%), which is a common path to qualification in that profession. In contrast, 92.6% of full-time first degree leavers who studied Medicine & dentistry and 94.4% who studied Veterinary science went into work and 1.6% and 1.0% respectively went into work and further study.

Chart 5 - Percentage of full-time first degree leavers by subject area** and activity 2015/16


The HESA Staff record covers all academic and non-academic staff who have a contract of employment with a UK HE provider, or for whom the HE provider is liable to pay Class 1 National Insurance contributions.

On 1 December 2015, there were in total, but excluding those staff on atypical contracts (see Definitions, 410,130 staff in the HE sector, of whom 201,380 were academic and 208,750 were non-academic. In addition, there were 72,015 academic staff on atypical contracts. Non-academic atypical staff are no longer included within the coverage of the record and are therefore excluded from this publication.

The remainder of the staff figures exclude atypical staff. Table G provides a breakdown of academic staff by academic employment marker and mode of employment for the last five years.

Staff numbers have increased over the last 5 years and student numbers decreased between 2012/13 and 2014/15 but rose in 2015/16. Overall staff numbers have increased by 1.6% since last year. Student numbers have increased by 0.7% since 2014/15 and decreased 8.6% since 2011/12.

Chart 6 illustrates the fluctuations of both students and academic staff over a five-year period. It should be noted that the axis scale for staff differs from that of students in order to express both trends on the same chart. Following the regular review of the HESA Staff record there were several changes to the collection of staff data from 2012/13. The changes which impact upon the figures in Chart 6 include a change to the method for reporting academic contracts.

Chart 6 - Students and academic staff (excluding atypical) at UK HEPs 2011/12 to 2015/16

Table H shows academic staff by terms of employment, mode of employment, academic employment function and sex for 2015/16. Overall, there was a higher percentage of male academic staff than female. However, higher percentages of part-time academic staff were female. This was true for both open-ended/permanent and fixed-term contracts.

Chart 7 below illustrates the percentages of open-ended/permanent and fixed-term contract academic staff by academic employment function, mode of employment and sex. It can be seen that staff engaged in both teaching and research were much more likely to be employed on open-ended/permanent contracts than those undertaking only research.

Chart 7 - Terms of employment of academic staff (excluding atypical) by academic employment function, mode of employment and sex 2015/16


The finance data collected by HESA from UK HE providers covers income and expenditure. Accounting standards for higher education providers changed for 2015/16 so this year's data is not comparable with previously published HESA finance data. HE providers have submitted re-stated figures for 2014/15 based on the new standards so that changes from last year can be assessed. Total income increased by 3.6% in cash terms since 2014/15, while total expenditure increased by 1.1%, with an HE sector surplus across both years.

Table I provides a breakdown of income by source, and expenditure by type, for the last two years.

Chart 8 illustrates the percentage change of the various sources of income over the same period.

Chart 8 - HE total income by source of income 2014/15§ to 2015/16

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