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Who's studying in HE?

HE Student Data Who's studying in HE?

On this page: Student numbers | Student numbers by HE provider and subject of study | Personal characteristics | Widening participation

The tables and charts on this page provide information on who is studying in higher education. Some information is taken from our Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2016/17 (SFR), Higher Education Student Statistics: Alternative Providers, 2016/17 (SFR) and our UK Performance Indicators: Widening Participation, 2016/17 releases, which all contain further analysis.

Please note that some tables within this page include data from alternative providers.  The titles reflect this on those tables where this is the case.

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

Student numbers

The following tables and charts contain information on the numbers of students in higher education. 

Chart 1 - Students by level of study

2000/01 to 2016/17


Level of study is determined by the qualification that a student is aiming for.

How are student numbers calculated?

HESA student figures include anyone enrolled for more than two weeks on a higher education (HE) course that is primarily based in the UK, unless they are an incoming exchange student, on sabbatical, writing-up or dormant. HE level students at further education (FE) colleges in Wales are included, but not students at FE colleges in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

See the definition of Standard registration population for more detail. For students studying primarily outside the UK, see our transnational education data. Unless otherwise stated, figures exclude students at alternative higher education providers.


Figure 1 - First year HE student enrolments by level of study

2007/08 to 2016/17




Figure 3 - HE student enrolments by level of study

2012/13 to 2016/17



Please note that 'Other undergraduate' includes any qualification not listed above (see definitions for a full list of qualifications). 'Total other undergraduate' includes all undergraduate qualifications excluding first degrees.

What does first degree mean?

First degrees are those that, for the most part, lead to a bachelors degree qualification such as BA or BSc. See the definition for Level of study for more detail.

View student numbers by full-time equivalent (FTE)


Chart 2 - First year students by level and mode of study

2005/06 to 2016/17



The following table provides data on the breadth of UK HE student enrolments, including data on HE students at publicly funded HE providers, HE students on designated courses at alternative HE providers, and HE students at FE colleges. For more details on alternative HE providers, see our Higher Education Student Statistics: Alternative Providers, 2016/17 release.

Figure 10 - HE student enrolments at HE, FE and designated courses at alternative providers by level of study and HE provider type

2012/13 - 2016/17



Student numbers by HE provider and subject of study

The table below shows the number of students at each HE provider. Use the buttons on the right to show a breakdown by sex or domicile (UK/EU/Non-EU). Use the filters to restrict to first year students only, full- or part-time students, or a particular level of study. Check the box on the right to view a table including alternative HE providers.


Table 1 - HE student enrolments by HE provider






Figure 11 - HE student enrolments (including on AP designated courses) by provider and domicile



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

What do we mean by HE provider?

HESA collects data from universities, higher education colleges and other specialist providers of higher education. Collectively, we refer to these organisations as higher education (HE) providers. Most tables of HESA data count students at publicly funded higher education institutions plus the University of Buckingham. From 2016/17, HE level students at further education (FE) colleges in Wales are included, but not HE level students at FE colleges in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. These tables don't include other alternative providers unless specified.


Table 9 - HE student enrolments by subject of study




Subjects are coded according to the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS). Detailed subject codes are grouped into Principal subjects, which are then grouped into 19 Subject areas. Use the 'Subject of study' filter on the above table to switch between the 19 Subject areas and the more detailed Principal subjects.

See What do HE students study? for more detailed information

Personal characteristics

The following table provides overview information on all students broken down by sex, age group and disability status, and on UK domiciled students broken down by ethnicity.

Figure 4 - HE student enrolments by personal characteristics

2012/13 to 2016/17



When viewing percentages in this table, please note that percentage calculations exclude unknown values.

View more detailed tables on personal characteristics

Widening participation

The following table summarises some of our published measures of widening participation.

Figure 5 - HE undergraduate UK domiciled full-time student enrolments by participation characteristics

2012/13 to 2016/17

What is POLAR?

Local areas are given a score of 1-5 based on how many young people from those areas have historically gone into higher education. The 20% of areas with the lowest proportion of young people entering HE are called 'Low participation neighbourhoods'. POLAR stands for 'Participation of Local Areas' and is calculated by OfS (Office for Students). POLAR is re-calculated every few years. This data is only returned to HESA for students who apply through UCAS, so to align with the cohort who typically enter through this route, the table has been restricted to undergraduate UK domiciled full-time students. Please note that POLAR low participation data has not been produced for HE providers in Scotland, to align with the HESA Performance Indicators. As such, low participation figures for all countries in a given year, will not sum to totals represented at the bottom of the table.

Widening participation statistics by HE provider are published in the UK Performance Indicators. The following two charts indicate how the proportion of entrants to HE from under-represented backgrounds has changed over time.

Read more in our UK Performance Indicators: Widening participation release

How do the Widening participation: UK Performance Indicators differ from widening participation data published elsewhere?

The data published within the UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs) is based on a population which differs slightly from that used in other releases published by HESA:

  • UKPIs data is restricted to the HESA HE session population, excluding students studying mainly overseas as part of a collaborative course between their UK HE provider and an overseas HE provider. Most of the other data published by HESA is restricted to the HESA HE standard registration population.
  • UK domiciled data for the UKPIs, excludes students who were living in Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man prior to entering HE. Other UK domiciled data published by HESA includes students from Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man.
  • The UKPIs entrant population excludes students who were recorded as leaving before 1 December in the academic year of entry.
  • In the UKPIs, student age is calculated at 30 September of the academic year in which the student was recorded as commencing their studies.

Chart 1 - Percentage of UK domiciled young full-time first degree entrants from state schools by academic year

1998/99 to 2016/17




Chart 3 - Percentage of UK domiciled entrants from low participation neighbourhoods by academic year

1998/99 to 2016/17


Colour changes in the above chart indicate methodology changes. For more detail, see the Widening participation: UK Performance Indicators summary.

Further data

Next: Where do HE students come from?

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