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Introduction - Students 2012/13

Student population

The total number of HE enrolments at UK higher education institutions (HEIs) stood at 2,340,275 in 2012/13, a decrease of 6.3% from 2011/12. This reflects a general decline across the sector in all modes and levels of study which coincides with changes to the tuition fee arrangements. Postgraduate enrolments decreased by 5.6% and undergraduate enrolments decreased by 6.4% between 2011/12 and 2012/13. Full-time enrolments decreased by 2.3% while part-time enrolments showed a sharper decline of 15.1% over the same period.

2.38 million students were studying for a qualification or for credit at 161 HEIs in 2012/13. Of these institutions, 160 were publicly-funded and one, The University of Buckingham, was privately funded.

A small proportion of these students (1.5%) were studying at further education (FE) level.1 Information about FE students studying in HEIs is included in Table A and in two of the main tables of this publication (Tables 1 and 2), but they are otherwise excluded from this publication. All percentages from this point onwards relate to students at HE level only.

Table A provides the numbers and proportions of HE students studying at each level with comparisons between full-time and part-time. Over two-thirds (71.9%) of the 2,340,275 HE students were following a full-time or sandwich course, referred to in the rest of this publication as full-time. Over half of all students (56.1%) were following a full-time first degree course. It can be seen that a much higher proportion of full-time students were studying for a first degree than of part-time students who were more likely to be studying for another type of undergraduate qualification.

Chart 1 below illustrates the breakdown of HE students by level and mode of study (sourced from Table A).

All HE students by level of study and mode of study 2012/13


A higher proportion of female students (56.2%) than male students (43.8%) were studying in HE in the UK. This sex imbalance was more pronounced among students studying part-time of whom 60.5% were female. Amongst other undergraduate students, nearly two-thirds (63.9%) were female.

Chart 2 below shows the sex breakdown of HE students by level of study and mode of study (sourced from Table C and Table D).

Sex of HE students by level of study and mode of study 2012/13


Although a large proportion of students studying in the UK were domiciled in the UK before they entered Higher Education (81.8%), a further 5.4% were from other countries within the European Union (EU) and 12.8% were from countries outside the EU.

Among undergraduate students from outside the UK, the highest proportions came from Asia (42.3%) and the EU (35.1%). The next highest proportions were from Africa (6.3%), the Middle East (5.5%) and North America (5.2%). Table 8 of this publication gives details of the countries with the highest numbers of students studying in the UK. Among part-time students the proportion of non-UK students was much lower than for full-time students (7.7% compared to 22.3%). Table B provides a summary of students by domicile and sex.

Chart 3 below shows the proportions of non-UK domiciled undergraduates by region of domicile (sourced from Table D).

Non-UK domiciled undergraduate students by region of domiicle 2012/13

Although females were in the majority within the whole student population, this was not the case across all geographic regions. For UK students, 57.5% were female, the third highest proportion after Other European Economic Area (63.3%) and North America (60.1%). The lowest proportions of females were observed among students from Africa (41.3%) and the Middle East (33.8%).

Table C and Table D provide a more detailed breakdown of the postgraduate and undergraduate populations.

Over half (57.2%) of all full-time postgraduate students were from outside the UK, with 45.6% of full-time postgraduates coming from outside the EU. Non-UK postgraduate students were prominent on full-time research degree courses (48.6%) and even more so on full-time taught higher degree courses (71.1%).

Chart 4 below shows the considerable sex variations apparent in the breakdown of HE students by both level of study and domicile (sourced from Table C and Table D).

Sex of HE students by level of study and domicile 2012/13

Across all levels of study the proportion of female students was highest for UK domiciled students. Over two-thirds (67.5%) of UK domiciled other postgraduates were female and 64.6% of UK other undergraduates were female.

Over a third (37.1%) of postgraduate students were from outside the UK compared to only 12.6% of undergraduates, comprising 4.4% from other EU countries and 8.1% from non-EU countries. Undergraduates account for over three-quarters (77.1%) of the overall HE student population, however, this proportion varied by domicile. Students from the UK had the largest proportion of undergraduate students at 82.4%, while 63.4% of students from other EU countries were undergraduates and less than half (49.0%) of students from non-EU countries were on undergraduate courses.

Of UK domiciled undergraduates, 57.2% were female. The figure for other EU was 54.9%. Other European Economic area countries had the highest proportion of undergraduates who were female at 65.1% followed by North America at 64.5% and the Middle East had the lowest proportion at 28.9%.

Just under three-quarters (73.4%) of students on courses below first degree level were studying on a part-time basis. Subject of study is an important factor in explaining the high proportion of females on courses below first degree level, as illustrated in the following section.

Subject of study

For 2012/13 a revised coding of subject area was introduced with JACS3 replacing JACS2. Further detail about the change is described in the definitions. It should be noted that while the 19 subject areas are comparable across these two versions of JACS, some institutions have taken the opportunity to reclassify some courses with the introduction of JACS3.

Table E shows the percentages of students at different levels who were following courses in each of 19 subject areas. A detailed explanation of the subject areas, and the way in which student numbers are apportioned between them, may be found in the definitions section of this publication.

There are two figures at the ‘Other undergraduate’ level that are worthy of comment, those for subjects allied to medicine and combined. The high proportion in subjects allied to medicine can be explained because a qualification below first degree level is the norm in many health-related professions. 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.

Table F shows that the proportion of part-time students varied greatly by subject area. At 94.0% almost all students in the combined subject area were part-time; again, this is attributable to the way Open University students are reported. The other area with a very high proportion of part-time students was education, at 52.0%.

Chart 5 below provides the numbers of HE students by subject area and level of study (sourced from Table E).

All HE students by subject area and level of study 2012/13

Similarly, the proportion of female students was heavily subject-dependent, with wide divergence from the overall figure of 56.2%. Subject areas with a high proportion of females included subjects allied to medicine (79.4%), education (76.1%), veterinary science (75.5%) and languages (68.6%). Subject areas with a low proportion of females included architecture, building & planning (33.7%), computer science (17.4%) and engineering & technology (15.8%).

Students from outside the UK were well represented in business & administrative studies (37.5%), engineering & technology (32.1%), law (24.1%), architecture, building & planning (21.8%) and computer science (21.2%).

Age of students

Table G shows the proportion of first-year UK domiciled postgraduates in each age group. 57.4% of full-time first year UK domiciled postgraduate students were 21-24 years old. 66.9% of all part-time first year UK domiciled postgraduate students were aged 30 and over.

Table H provides equivalent information for undergraduates. 20.7% of UK domiciled entrants on full-time first degree courses were aged 21 and over and 52.6% on full-time other undergraduate courses were aged 21 and over. 54.4% of part-time first degree entrants were aged 30 or over.

Chart 6 below illustrates the age distribution of first year UK domiciled first degree students (sourced from Table H).

Age distribution of first year UK domiciled first degree students 2012/13


Ethnicity is recorded using the categories available for the 2011 Census (details can be found in the Definitions section). These categories are then amalgamated following Office for National Statistics guidelines into the smaller number of categories shown in Table J and in Table 13 of the main tables. The coding frame is designed to describe patterns of ethnicity within the UK domiciled population; information on ethnicity is required by HESA only for students of UK domicile.

Ethnicity is known for 97.9% of UK domiciled first-year undergraduates and 96.1% of UK domiciled first-year postgraduates. Participation in HE by students from ethnic minorities continues to increase overall and accordingly the most up-to-date picture is obtained from consideration of the position for new entrants. 20.1% (18.6% in 2011/12) of all UK domiciled first-year students of known ethnicity are from ethnic minorities and for full-time first degree students the figure is 23.6% (21.5% in 2011/12).

Table I provides the percentage of first year UK domiciled ethnic minority students by mode and level of study.

There are substantial differences in participation of ethnic minorities across subject areas, ranging from 3.5% (veterinary science) to 32.0% (law), which are published in Table J and Chart 7 below (sourced from Table J).

Percentage of ethnic minority UK domiciled undergraduate students by subject area 2012/13

Qualifications obtained

In 2012/13 a total of 787,900 qualifications were awarded at HE level to students in publicly-funded HEIs (together with The University of Buckingham). Of these, 33.3% were at postgraduate level, 51.2% were undergraduate first degree qualifications and 15.5% were other undergraduate qualifications. 25,240 foundation degrees were awarded, 3.2% of the total. Table K provides a more detailed breakdown.

Chart 8 below provides a breakdown of HE qualifications obtained by level of qualification (sourced from Table K).

HE qualifications obtained by level of qualification 2012/13

24.7% of all HE qualifications were awarded to non-UK domiciled students. This figure rose to 59.1% of all taught higher degrees awarded.

Table L provides a breakdown of the class of award for first degree qualifications.

Of students who obtained a classified first degree, 18.4% were awarded first class honours and 67.9% were awarded either first or upper second class honours. Chart 9 below shows the female/male, full-time/part-time and UK/non-UK percentages (sourced from Table L). The proportion of first class honours did not depend heavily on any of these factors, but the proportion of upper second class honours was substantially greater for female students than for male students, and similarly for UK students compared to non-UK students and for full-time students compared to part-time students.

Percentage of first degree qualifiers by class of degree, sex, domicile and mode of study 2012/13

Table M shows that there was considerable variation by subject area in the proportions of different classes of degrees that were awarded. This table excludes the clinical subject areas medicine & dentistry and veterinary science, in which the majority of degrees awarded are not subject to classification.

The sex, mode and domicile proportions vary greatly across subject areas (see Table F), and therefore it is not meaningful to analyse class of degree without adjusting for subject choice.

Flows between administrations

The main tables provide figures showing student mobility within the UK for all UK domiciled students. However, the figures for postgraduate students should be interpreted with caution because the domicile will often reflect the location of undergraduate study rather than the original ‘domestic’ domicile. Part-time students display little mobility and thus Table N focuses on full-time undergraduates.

Chart 10 below provides the percentage of full-time UK domiciled first degree students studying in each region by domicile (sourced from Table N).

Percentage of full-time UK domiciled first degree students by region of institution and region of domicile 2012/13

95.2% of full-time first degree students domiciled in England studied in their country of domicile; the corresponding figures for the other UK home nations were 62.5% for Wales, 95.1% for Scotland and 67.9% for Northern Ireland.

English and Scottish domiciled students displayed little mobility in proportionate terms. However, in absolute terms England contributed nearly half of the students studying in Wales and more than one-eighth of those in Scotland. Outward mobility from Wales and Scotland was almost entirely to England and two-thirds of outward mobility from Northern Ireland was to England, with almost all the balance to Scotland.

Just over half, 50.7%, of full-time first degree students domiciled from London remained in London to study while the flow into London from other regions in England was 62,040, representing 8.3% of the total for other regions of England. Table series 7 in the main body of the publication provides a full breakdown of mobility between English regions.

At full-time other undergraduate level there was less mobility in England and Wales than at the first degree level: the corresponding percentages for study in the country of domicile were 98.8% for England, 82.8% for Wales while mobility in Scotland at other undergraduate level of study was similar at 92.3%. The equivalent figure of 51.9% for Northern Ireland at first appears anomalous when compared to the other administrations. This is due to a much smaller level of full-time other undergraduate provision at Northern Ireland institutions.

Offshore provision

‘Offshore provision’ is the term used to describe study taking place entirely outside the UK. However, where the students are either registered at a UK HEI, or are registered with a partner organisation in the country of study but are working towards a qualification awarded by a UK HEI,2 such students are termed ‘offshore students’.

It should be noted that in 2012/13, students registered at Oxford Brookes University accounted for 43.7% of the total population of the Aggregate offshore record. The majority of these students were registered with an overseas partner on Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) courses.

Table O provides a breakdown by level of study and by the nature of the relationship with the student, and is disaggregated between EU and non-EU provision.

Chart 11 below illustrates the proportions of students studying wholly overseas by type of provision (sourced from Table O).

All students studying wholly overseas by region of provider and type of activity 2012/13

In 2012/13 there were 440 FE-level offshore students. All subsequent analysis relates to HE-level offshore students only, of which 12.9% (77,240) were studying within the EU and 87.1% (521,245) outside it, amounting to a total of 598,485 students.

Within the EU, the largest numbers of students were registered with a UK HEI (51.3%). Distance learning appeared to be the most common form of relationship for these students, accounting for nearly two-thirds (63.8%) of the group. The number of students at overseas campuses within the EU was relatively small at only 355 students. Overseas partnership arrangements, in which students are not registered at, but are studying for awards of, a UK HEI accounted for 48.7% of EU offshore students. With regard to level of study, the majority of EU offshore students were studying at first degree level (66.8%), mainly through distance learning and partnership arrangements, particularly those where the students are not registered at the UK HEI. There were also sizeable numbers studying on taught postgraduate courses (27.3%).

Outside the EU the pattern was slightly different, with the majority of students studying for an award of, but not registered with, a UK HEI (60.6% of non-EU offshore students), most of these at overseas partner organisations. Of those students who were registered with a UK HEI 48.0% were studying by distance learning. Overseas campus arrangements were more common for non-EU than EU offshore students, with 8.2% of non-EU students falling into this category. Referring to level of study, the vast majority of non-EU offshore students were studying first degrees (82.3%), with by far the largest concentration in overseas partner organisations (70.2% of all non-EU first degree offshore students).

Table P shows the breakdown by level of study for the 20 countries with the greatest level of offshore provision. Almost three-quarters (71.4%) of all offshore provision was concentrated within these countries. The largest numbers of students were observed within Malaysia, Singapore, China and Pakistan which between them accounted for over one-third (33.8%) of all HE offshore students. Only three EU countries appeared within the top 20: Ireland, Greece and Germany.

1 This number is lower than in preceding years because some of the most heavily ‘mixed-economy’ HEIs in England no longer report their FE student numbers through HESA.

2 The University of Wales (central functions) has no students within the UK and so does not appear in this publication except in respect of its offshore students.

© Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited 2014