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Higher Education Staff Statistics: UK, 2020/21

Statistical Bulletin SB261

This Statistical Bulletin includes: About this release | How many staff are there in HE? | What are the employment conditions of HE staff? | Who's working in HE? | Notes and definitions

About this release

This bulletin provides details of staff employment at UK higher education (HE) providers on 1 December 2020. Detailed analysis of the HESA staff record will be available in the Higher Education Staff Data, 2020/21 open dataset due to be released in February 2022.

From 2019/20, it is not mandatory for HE providers in England and Northern Ireland to return information about non-academic staff. Further details on coverage changes can be seen in the notes. We advise caution in interpreting this data.

How many staff are there in HE?

In 2020/21, 214 HE providers reported staff data to HESA. Of these providers, 196 were present in 2019/20 and 18 were new additions this year after being added to the OfS Register in the Approved (fee cap) category. More information on data coverage is given in the notes section.

On 1 December 2020:

  • There were 224,530 academic staff (excluding atypical) employed in the HE sector, an increase of less than one percent from 223,525 on 1 December 2019.
  • The number of academic staff (excluding atypical) employed on full-time contracts on 1 December 2020 (149,085) increased by 2% relative to 1 December 2019 (146,780). 
  • Both academic atypical and non-academic staff numbers have continued to decline from 2018/19.
  • While overall academic staff (excluding atypical) numbers have increased year on year, UK nationality numbers have decreased for the first time in the five-year time series.


Figure 1 - All staff (excluding non-academic atypical) by activity standard occupational classification

Academic years 2016/17 to 2020/21

How are HE staff counted by HESA?

Higher Education Providers send data to HESA about all their staff who are employed under a contract of employment at any time during the academic year (1 August to 31 July). To prevent over-counting of staff resource HESA only publishes data about staff employed on an active contract on a single reference date of 1 December.

Exceptions to the 1 December census date rule are staff on atypical contracts who are counted regardless of their start and finish dates. Atypical staff figures are always shown separately and should not be added to non-atypical figures.

Most counts of staff numbers are Full-Person Equivalent. This means that a staff member with more than one contract or activity is divided between those activities in the data tables. For example someone who works 3 days a week as a professor and 1 day a week as a gardener will be counted as 0.75 professors and 0.25 gardeners.

See the definitions for Coverage and Staff full-person equivalent for more detail.

The contract marker filter on Figure 1 provides an option to view data on the number of staff on academic atypical contracts. Please note that staff on atypical contracts form a separate population which is not comparable to those on other contract types (see the statement on the use of HESA staff data for more information). This bulletin does not include information on non-academic atypical contracts. Since 2015/16, atypical staff on non-academic contracts have been excluded from the coverage of the Staff record.

In 2020/21, 59,120 staff were employed by HE providers on academic atypical contracts. Atypical contracts meet one or more of the following conditions:

  • Are for less than four consecutive weeks - meaning that no statement of terms and conditions needs to be issued.
  • Are for one-off/short-term tasks - for example answering phones during clearing, staging an exhibition, organising a conference. There is no mutual obligation between the work provider and working person beyond the given period of work or project. In some cases, individuals will be paid a fixed fee for the piece of work unrelated to hours/time spent.
  • Involve work away from the supervision of the normal work provider - but not as part of teaching company schemes or for teaching and research supervision associated with the provision of distance learning education.
  • Involve a high degree of flexibility often in a contract to work as-and-when required - for example conference catering, student ambassadors, student demonstrators.

The total full-time equivalent (FTE) value of atypical staff in 2020/21 was 5,065. Further detail on Staff FTE will be published in February 2022 in our Higher Education Staff Data, 2020/21 open dataset.

What are the employment conditions of HE staff?

Source of basic salary

  • Among academic staff, 174,940 or 78% had a basic salary that was financed entirely by the HE provider in 2020/21. This was the same percentage in 2019/20.
  • The remaining 22% had other sources of basic salary. Other sources can include being partly financed by the HE provider, financed by research councils, UK branches of multinational companies, the NHS and/or UK and overseas charities.

Academic employment function

Contract levels 

  • Among academic staff, 22,855 or 10% were employed on a contract level described as a professor in 2020/21. It should be noted that this is likely to be an undercount of all professors because many will fall into more senior levels, i.e. Heads of Department.
  • Of professors, 28% were female in 2020/21. The percentage of female professors increased by one percentage point year on year from 2013/14 until 2019/20 and has remained at 28% for 2020/21.
  • Academic staff employed on other senior academic contracts comprised 40% females in 2020/21. This has gradually increased from 33% in 2013/14.
What’s the difference between a professor and an other senior academic contract level?

Every contract is coded with a contract level. The professor level (F1) is defined as “senior academic appointments which may carry the title of professor but which do not have departmental line management responsibilities.”

Other senior contracts (codes A to E) include leadership and management responsibilities. These contracts may also be held by people who hold the professor title.

See the contract levels definition for more detail.

Terms of employment

  • Among academic staff, 72,610, or 32% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2020/21.
  • Of full-time academic staff, 24% were employed on fixed-term contracts in 2020/21. In contrast, 48% of part-time academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts.

Figure 2 - Academic staff (excluding atypical) by employment conditions

Academic years 2016/17 to 2020/21


Figure 3 shows data about the number of staff on an hourly paid contract. This can be filtered by various data fields including zero hours contract.

  • Among those on an academic contract, 36% of part-time staff were hourly paid compared with 1% of full-time staff, while 8% of part-time non-academic staff reported to HESA were hourly paid compared with less than 1% of full-time staff. 
  • More staff on fixed-term contracts were hourly paid relative to open-ended/permanent contracts. This was true among academic staff and non-academic staff reported to HESA.
  • There were 3,650 academic (excluding atypical) staff on a zero hours contract, of whom 94% were hourly paid.
What is a zero hours contract?

A zero hours contract is a contract between an employer and a worker where the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, and the worker is not obliged to accept any work offered.


Figure 3 - All staff (excluding atypical) by mode of employment and hourly paid marker

Academic years 2020/21


Who's working in HE?

  • Female staff accounted for 49% of full-time staff reported to HESA and 66% of part-time staff in 2020/21.
  • In 2020/21, there were more male than female academic staff (118,695 and 105,440 respectively). Figures 2 and 3 show that 43% of full-time academic staff were female.

Figure 4 - All staff (excluding atypical) by mode of employment, contract marker and sex

Academic year 2020/21

Academic marker            Mode of employment

Age of staff

Ethnicity of staff

What is ‘BME’?

The HESA staff record includes ethnicity information collected from staff by HE providers (see ethnicity definition).

BME stands for ‘Black and minority ethnic’ and is a combination of the Black, Asian, Mixed and Other ethnicity categories.

Nationality of staff

  • On 1 December 2020, among academic staff with known nationality, 17% or 38,230, had an EU (excluding the UK) nationality, and 15% had a non-EU nationality.

Figure 5 - Academic staff (excluding atypical) by equality characteristics

Academic years 2016/17 to 2020/21



Who produced this Statistical Bulletin?

This bulletin has been produced by HESA in collaboration with statisticians from the Department for Education, the Office for Students, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Department for the Economy Northern Ireland. It has been released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

What is the coverage of data in this release?

There are notable changes to the coverage of Staff data from 2019/20. Prior to 2019/20, the data covers all academic and non-academic staff from all publicly funded HE providers in the UK (and the University of Buckingham). From 2019/20 it became optional for providers in England and Northern Ireland to report data about staff on non-academic contracts (with the exception of any non-academic contracts held by vice-chancellors/heads of institutions or governors).

A further change in England from 2019/20 was the introduction of the Office for Students’ (OfS) Register and the two types of registration categories available to providers in England; Approved (fee cap) and Approved (further information relating to the OfS Register can be found in section III of the pdf document Securing student success: Regulatory framework for higher education in England [PDF]). Those registered in the Approved (fee cap) category are covered within the 2019/20 data presented, alongside all publicly funded HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This represents a slightly higher number of providers falling within coverage this year. In 2020/21, 214 HE providers reported staff data to HESA. This increased from 197 in 2019/20.

Of the 197 HE providers reporting staff data to HESA in 2019/20, 131 opted into returning data about all of their non-academic staff. The remaining 66 opted out and therefore only returned non-academic staff data pertaining to vice-chancellors/heads of institutions or governors. Due to this, we advise caution in interpreting this data.

Of the 214 HE providers reporting staff data to HESA in 2020/21, 130 opted into returning data about all of their non-academic staff. The remaining 84 opted out and therefore only returned non-academic staff data pertaining to vice-chancellors/heads of institutions or governors. Due to this, we advise caution in interpreting this data.

Has data for earlier years been revised?

This release uses revised data returns (the 'fixed' database) for time series figures. The fixed data return facility provides HE providers with the opportunity to make post-collection amendments to their HESA return. The fixed database remains open for between 6 and 15 months following the closure of the corresponding live data collection and usually becomes available at least 18 months after the original dataset is delivered. Please refer to the definitions below for detail as to which versions have been used to produce this release and the impact of these changes.

Has COVID-19 had any impact on this release?

Data for the 2019/20 and 2020/21 HESA Staff record was collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exceptional guidance for 2019/20 and 2020/21 was issued to HE providers about a small handful of data fields within the collection to clarify HESA's expectations about how these fields should be treated in light of the pandemic. Note that the 2019/20 data in this bulletin relate to details about staff employed on 1 December 2019 (with the exception of academic atypical staff which are included within Figure 1). This precedes the declaration by the World Health Organisation of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

HESA considered performing a detailed analysis of potential COVID-19 impacts on this year's Staff record. However, since the Staff data is limited in scope, many of the hypotheses that one might wish to test would not be visible to us.

For example, press reports from 2020 and 2021 suggested that the switch to online delivery of courses resulted in significant additional effort for many staff. This hypothesis is difficult to test because HESA staff data does not permit straightforward linking of Staff records between years and contains very limited data on hours of work.

An initial analysis of the Staff data showed similar patterns to previous years and our analysis of Student data found limited impacts of COVID-19. We therefore decided not to undertake an in-depth analysis of the impact of COVID-19 on this year's Staff data.

There has been a small delay of around two weeks to the publication date for this release from that of last year.

How to use the tables and charts

The tables and charts (labelled as figures) within this bulletin are interactive. There are options immediately above the figures to filter by data field(s) such as by sex or mode of employment. The figures refresh to display the option(s) chosen, updating the data accordingly.

In the figures, 0, 1, 2 are rounded to 0. All other numbers are rounded up or down to the nearest multiple of 5 in line with the HESA rounding strategy. Percentages are calculated on unrounded data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. This means percentages may not sum exactly to 100%.

It is a criminal offence under Section 171 of the Data Protection Act 2018 for a person knowingly or recklessly to re-identify information that is de-identified personal data without the consent of the controller responsible for de-identifying the personal data.

How can I get the data in a spreadsheet?

All the data is presented in interactive tables on the HESA website and will not be published in Excel spreadsheets. Below each table you will find a link to download the table as a *.csv.

If you are planning to open the *.csv files in Excel, you must ensure you import the *.csv data, rather than just opening the file directly. This will ensure the data is presented appropriately without corrupt characters appearing. We have published instructions on how to import *.csv files in earlier versions of Excel. If you are using Excel 2016, you should select 'Data' in the top ribbon and then choose 'From Text/csv'. In the options screen, select '65001: Unicode (UTF-8)' in the 'File Origin' box; click 'Edit' and ensure that all columns are formatted as 'Text'.

How to print this bulletin

This bulletin is designed primarily for on screen users. It can be printed by pressing Ctrl + P from within the release.


The data presented in this bulletin is based on the 2020/21 HESA Staff record. The statistics in this bulletin are derived by HESA from data collected from all HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and Approved (fee cap) providers in England.

Data was prepared in January 2022 using the following versions of the datasets:

  • 2016/17 Original dataset, November 2017 version
  • 2017/18 Fixed dataset, September 2020 version
  • 2018/19 Original dataset, November 2019 version
  • 2019/20 Original dataset, December 2020 version
  • 2020/21 Original dataset, December 2021 version

Staff definitions

See data intelligence for specific notes about staff data in the first release.

HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.

Contact Us

Press enquiries should be directed to the Press Office at HESA, 95 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ, +44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 6), [email protected]. General enquiries about the data contained within this bulletin should be addressed to Luke Perrott, Official Statistics Manager, HESA (at the same address), +44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 2), [email protected].

Release date

1 February 2022, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (2008/09 - onwards)


Children, education and skills

Issued by

HESA, 95 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ

Press enquiries

+44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 6), [email protected]

Public enquiries

+44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 2), [email protected]


Luke Perrott

Pre-release access

View pre-release access list for this release

Please email questions or comments to [email protected].
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