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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

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, just over half way through the 2019/20 academic year. An insight brief has been published that analyses the impact of the pandemic on student data and trends across years of enrolments and qualifications across various characteristics. There are two known areas in which the pandemic has had some impact:

  • There is evidence to suggest that among a few providers, administrative hold-ups related to the pandemic resulted in significant numbers of qualifications awarded in 2019/20 not being reported. The impact of this under-reporting is believed to explain some of the 3% decrease in the number of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 compared with 2018/19, and the impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded. Qualifications that were not reported in the 2019/20 academic year have carried over to 2020/21 and contributed to the 9% increase in the number of qualifications awarded in 2020/21.
  • In relation to classifications of first degrees and other awards, many providers issued public statements that a 'no detriment' approach would be adopted when it came to assessment in 2019/20. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment.

The 2019/20 and 2020/21 data was collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exceptional guidance was issued to HE providers regarding a number of data fields within the collections to clarify HESA's expectations about how these fields should be treated in light of the pandemic.

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. This release uses CAH v1.3.4. HESA have decided not to utilise CAH v1.3.4 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, 2020/21 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, 2020/21 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: The number of first year undergraduate students enrolled on Subjects allied to medicine (including nursing and related subjects) saw a 20% growth relative to 2019/20. 

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

Academic years 2019/20 to 2020/21

 
 
 
 
 
 
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View equivalent data on qualifiers

Personal characteristics

Chart 11 - HE students by CAH level 1 and sex

Academic years 2019/20 to 2020/21

 
 

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 2020/21

 
 
 
 
 

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 and CAH26 with the exception of CAH26-01-03 (Human geography). CAH26 (Geographical and environmental studies) has been disagreggated so that CAH26-01-03 (Human geography) is presented in the non-science grouping labelled as 'Geographical and environmental studies (social sciences)'. All other CAH level 3 codes within CAH26 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 followed by Subjects allied to medicine, accounting for 16% and 12% of all students respectively.

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

Academic years 2019/20 to 2020/21

 
 
 
 
 

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 Design, and creative and performing arts 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 years 2019/20 to 2020/21

Show:


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

Academic years 2019/20

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

Academic year 2019/20

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

Academic year 2019/20

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

Academic year 2020/21

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

Academic year 2020/21

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

Academic year 2020/21

 
 
 
 
 
 
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