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What do HE students study?

HE Student Data What do HE students study?

On this page: Complete subject breakdown | Personal characteristics | Changes over time | Subjects by HE provider

Student data published by HESA prior to 2021 related mainly to data about all publicly funded HE providers in the UK (and the University of Buckingham) and HE level provision at further education (FE) colleges in Wales. This equated to all providers submitting data to the HESA Student record. This year we are combining data from both the HESA Student record and the HESA Student alternative record to provide a more complete picture of higher education within the UK. This means that the tables and charts within this release include data about:

  • Higher education (HE) providers in England registered with the Office for Students (OfS) in the Approved (fee cap) or Approved categories;
  • Publicly funded HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; and
  • Further education (FE) colleges in Wales.

For users wishing to undertake time-series analysis that make use of data drawn exclusively from the HESA Student record (and therefore comparable with the coverage of tables and charts previously published) this release additionally offers the option to download the source data for each table and chart based on that record alone. This can be done by clicking the link to 'Download source data 051 record only (csv)' underneath each table and chart. Please note that there have been coverage changes over time to both the Student and Student alternative record which can affect the validity of time series comparisons. Any significant changes have been explained in the definitions.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020 part way through the 2019/20 academic year. The pandemic did not have any notable impact on student enrolment figures for 2019/20, but did have an impact on qualifications awarded.

Administrative delays related to the pandemic at a few providers meant that significant numbers of qualifications were not reported during the data collection process. The impact can be seen in the decrease in the number of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 compared with 2018/19, particularly among part-time students. These qualifications are expected to be reported to HESA in the 2020/21 data collection.

Many providers issued public statements that a ‘no detriment’ approach to assessment would be adopted in response to the pandemic. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment. The impact can be seen in the increase in the proportion of first class degrees awarded in 2019/20 compared with 2018/19.

The 2019/20 academic year saw the implementation of Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) and the Common Aggregation Hierarchy (CAH). The HECoS classification replaces JACS, used in previous years, with CAH serving as a means to connect HECoS and JACS. For more information, refer to HESA's webpage on HECoS and CAH. HESA have decided not to utilise CAH v1.2 for time series analysis following investigations of the quality characteristics of CAH. More information can be found in the notes to our Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20 statistical bulletin.

Tables based on subjects coded according to the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) for years 2014/15 - 2018/19 are still available, please refer to the contents page to see these tables.

Some information on this page is taken from our Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20 statistical bulletin.

All tables and charts include a link underneath allowing you to download the data. Many tables also include a link to download the complete source data as a machine-readable csv file.

Complete subject breakdown

Key fact: Among student enrolments on Subjects allied to medicine, 79% were female.

Table 52 - HE student enrolments by subject of study and domicile

Academic years 2019/20

  This is a large table and will take a moment to load...

View equivalent data on qualifiers

Personal characteristics

Chart 11 - HE students by CAH level 1 and sex

Academic years 2019/20


Figures in subject tables are Full Person Equivalent (FPE). If a student on a course (an 'instance') studies more than one subject we apportion that instance between those subjects. For example, a student studying ⅔ Business studies and ⅓ French will be counted as 0.67 FPE in Business & administrative studies and 0.33 FPE in Languages.

Combined and general studies is only used for students on courses which do not specify a subject specialism. The majority of students in the combined and general studies subject area study at The Open University.

The table below looks at the proportion of students who studied science subjects. For example the first row shows “out of all female students, x% were studying science subjects”.

Figure 14 - Percentage of HE student enrolments in science subjects by personal characteristics

Academic years 2019/20


To view data on science students broken down by personal characteristics (e.g. “out of all science students, x were female”) please see What do HE students study?: Personal characteristics

The science grouping is an aggregation of CAH level 1 codes CAH01 through to CAH13 with the exception of CAH12-01-13 (Human geography). CAH12 (Geographical and environmental studies) has been disagreggated so that CAH12-01-13 (Human geography) is presented in the non-science grouping labelled as 'Geographical and environmental studies (social sciences)'. All other CAH level 3 codes within CAH12 are presented in the science grouping labelled as 'Geographical and environmental studies (natural sciences)'. This grouping of science subjects has been created by HESA. Feedback on this grouping is welcomed and can be sent to [email protected]

There is no single official definition of which subjects make up STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths). The HESA science grouping includes subjects like medicine, nursing and agriculture that may not be included in other definitions of STEM.

View more detailed subject breakdowns by ethnicity, disability, age and entry qualifications

Key fact: The CAH level 1 subject with the highest number of students is Business & management, accounting for 16% of all students.

Figure 13 - HE student enrolments by CAH level 1 subject and sex

Academic years 2019/20


Subjects by HE provider

The table below gives a breakdown of students by subject at each HE provider. If you select either the science or non-science CAH level 3 subject buttons, a drop-down menu will appear allowing you to show detailed CAH level 3 subject breakdowns within each CAH level 1 subject. For example, select Creative arts and design to see the separate figures for Art, Music, Drama, etc.

See Where do HE students study? for further information on specific universities and other HE providers

Table 49 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and subject of study

Academic year 2019/20


Table 49 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and subject of study

Academic year 2019/20

This is a large table and will take a moment to load...

Table 49 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and subject of study

Academic year 2019/20

This is a large table and will take a moment to load...

Table 49 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and subject of study

Academic year 2019/20

This is a large table and will take a moment to load...

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What do HE students study?
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