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What do HE students study?: Personal characteristics

HE Student Data What do HE students study?

On this page: Personal characteristics by subject of study | Detailed ethnicity breakdown | Entry qualifications

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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 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.

Personal characteristics by subject of study

In the tables below, use the buttons to show subject statistics by age, disability, ethnicity, sex or domicile. Note that ethnicity data is only collected for UK domiciled students.

Key fact: The most popular CAH level 1 subject among those aged 30 and over is Subjects allied to medicine.


Table 43 - HE student enrolments by subject of study and age group

Academic year 2019/20


Table 44 - HE student enrolments by subject of study and disability marker

Academic year 2019/20


Table 45 - UK domiciled HE student enrolments by subject of study and ethnicity

Academic years 2019/20


Key fact: Fewer than 1 in 5 Computing and Engineering & technology students are female.

Table 46 - HE student enrolments by subject of study

Academic years 2019/20



Detailed ethnicity breakdown

Table 53 - UK domiciled undergraduate students of known ethnicity by CAH level 1 subject and ethnicity

Academic years 2019/20


Entry qualifications

This table shows, for UK domicile entrants, the highest qualification they held at the start of their course. Use the Subject of study drop-down to show the more detailed CAH level 3 subject breakdowns.

Table 47 - First year UK domiciled HE student enrolments by subject of study and highest qualification on entry

Academic years 2019/20


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What do HE students study?
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