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Higher Education Student Data 2020/21

Detailed open data released by HESA reveals the uneven distribution of rising student numbers in 2020/21.

The 2020/21 academic year saw a 9% rise in the total number of students enrolled in higher education. Open data released by HESA today gives more detail on how this increase was distributed between HE providers and subjects of study.

Out of 267 providers who submitted data in both 2019/20 and 2020/21 204 saw their student numbers rise. 107 of these providers saw bigger proportional increases than the national 9% figure. 56 providers reported a decrease in student numbers since 2019/20.

The two subject groups with the highest numbers of students both grew the most. The number of students studying Business and management grew by 15% to nearly 475,000, and the number studying Subjects allied to medicine (including nursing and pharmacy) grew by 15% to nearly 340,000. In 2020/21 these two subject groups between them accounted for three out of ten students in higher education.

Other subject groups that saw large rises in student numbers included Psychology and Law which each increased by more than 12%.

Two subject groups saw reductions in student numbers with Historical, philosophical and religious studies falling by less than 1%, while the number of students in Language and area studies fell by more than 4%.   

As well as increases in student numbers enrolled in the UK there was an even greater increase in the number of students studying wholly overseas. The number of transnational students studying for UK qualifications grew by 13% from 2019/20 to 2020/21 to exceed 488,000.

Today’s open data Official Statistics release Higher Education Student Data includes detailed breakdowns of student data in five topics:  

Most data tables include seven years of data, with older data available through HESA’s publication archive.

If you have comments or suggestions about today’s release please give feedback via the form on each page of the release.


  • See Definitions: Students for definitions of terms used in the release and explanation of the coverage of statistics.
  • See Upcoming data releases for a schedule of Official Statistics releases from HESA, including Statistical Bulletins, Performance Indicators and full open data releases.
  • HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.
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