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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2018/19 - Where students come from and go to study

Statistical Bulletin SB255

Where are students in HE studying?

In 2018/19, 169 HE providers reported student data to HESA. More information on what this means in terms of coverage of the higher education sector is given in the about this release section. Figure 6 shows the number of students studying at each HE provider in the UK in 2018/19, with a breakdown by the geographic location of students' permanent home address prior to study (known as domicile).

In 2018/19, The Open University maintained its position as the provider with the most enrolments. In the top five providers, University College London overtook The University of Manchester, however the numbers of enrolments for both were relatively close to the numbers in Figure 6 of 2017/18. The University of Leeds gained 1,830 enrolments in 2018/19 and overtook The University of Birmingham to become the third largest non-OU provider.

Figure 6 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and domicile

Academic year 2018/19


HESA does not collect information on UK students who go abroad to study, but more information on these students can be found through United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In 2018/19, 98 providers reported data to the HESA AP student record. More information on what this means in terms of coverage of the higher education sector is given in the about this release section. Figure 6a shows the number of students studying at each AP in 2018/19, with a breakdown by the geographic location of students' permanent home address prior to study (known as domicile).

  • BPP University and The University of Law had the highest number of students amongst APs. Of students on designated courses at The University of Law, 88% were UK domiciled. For BPP University, 26% of students were from non-EU countries.

Figure 6a - Alternative provider student enrolments by alternative provider and domicile

Academic year 2018/19


Where do HE students come from?

Figures 7 and 8 show:

  • UK students made up the largest proportion of enrolments in 2018/19.
  • Non-EU first year student numbers grew by 18,475 between 2017/18 and 2018/19. Most of this increase occurred at postgraduate taught level.
  • Proportions of students from outside the UK varied by level and mode of study. Full-time postgraduates had the highest percentage from non-EU countries, at 45%.
  • The number of first year students from other European Union countries has increased from 2017/18 to 2018/19 after a reduction following the European Union referendum (Brexit) result in June 2016.
  • Across all student enrolments, HE providers in England had the greatest proportion of non-EU students, while providers in Scotland had the greatest proportion of other European Union students.
  • At HE providers in Wales, the overall number of non-EU students between 2013/14 and 2018/19 continues to fall. However for first year students between 2017/18 and 2018/19 there was an increase of 5%.

Figure 7 - HE student enrolments by level of study, mode of study and domicile

Academic year 2018/19

What is ‘First year marker’?

This option restricts the table to only show students who were on the first year of their course. This is useful for restricting data to the newest cohort of entrants. See the year of study definitions for more detail.

Figure 8 - HE student enrolments by domicile

Academic years 2014/15 to 2018/19


Figure 8a shows:

  • Non-European Union student enrolments on designated undergraduate courses have increased each year from 2015/16 to 2018/19.
  • There has been a decrease in other undergraduate designated course enrolments of 16% from 2017/18 to 2018/19. The number of students domiciled from England decreased from 2017/18 to 2018/19 by 15%.

Figure 8a - Alternative provider student enrolments by domicile

Academic years 2015/16 to 2018/19


The cross-border flows of first year students from the UK in Figure 9 shows that the majority of students stay in their home country, although those from Wales and Northern Ireland were more likely to cross borders than those from England and Scotland. The proportion of movements remains roughly the same year on year in general. A higher percentage of students from Wales and Northern Ireland enrolled in English HE providers in 2018/19 compared to 2014/15.

Figure 9 - UK domiciled first year HE student enrolments by domicile and country of HE provider

Academic years 2014/15 to 2018/19

Domicile Country of HE provider


Figure 10 shows the 2018/19 ranking of the top 10 European Union and non-European countries of domicile (excluding the UK) for HE student enrolments and the change since 2014/15. Due to overlapping data points on these charts, zoom functionality has been inbuilt.

Within the European Union:

  • Italy has seen a notable rise to become the top European Union country sending students to the UK, overtaking three other countries in the last five years.
  • Germany is the top European Union country to send students to Wales and Scotland, and Ireland is top in sending students to Northern Ireland.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2018/19, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China was also 34% higher in 2018/19 than in 2014/15, increasing from 89,540 to 120,385 in the five year span.
  • Student numbers from India increased from 18,325 in 2014/15 to 26,685 in 2018/19.
  • The other countries in the chart are more in line with European Union student numbers.
  • Nigeria has seen a 41% decline in student numbers coming to the UK over the five year period, dropping behind the United States, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
  • For more recent trends in international student visa applications and granted visas, refer to Table 1 of Immigration statistics published by the Home Office in November 2019. Please note that although on a similar theme, these statistics are not directly comparable. Home Office statistics cover further education as well as higher education, and immigration data provides an indication of the number of people who have an intention to enter the UK for study reasons, not whether, or when, an individual actually arrived in the UK, or what they did on arrival to the UK.

Click and drag to highlight an area on the chart below to zoom in. Right-click to reset the view.

Figure 10 - Top ten EU and non-EU countries of domicile (excluding the UK) in 2018/19 for HE student enrolments

Academic years 2014/15 and 2018/19


What students are registered at UK HE providers, but studying overseas?

Figure 11 shows information from the HESA Aggregate offshore record, capturing students studying wholly outside the UK who are either registered with a UK HE provider or who are studying for an award of a UK HE provider. APs do not submit an overseas record.

In 2018/19:

  • There were 666,815 students studying wholly overseas, a decrease of 4% compared with 2017/18.
  • Students registered at Oxford Brookes University accounted for 39% of the total population of the Aggregate offshore record. The majority of these were first degree students registered with an overseas partner on Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) programmes.
  • There were 142 HE providers who returned data on HE level students in the Aggregate offshore record.
  • Of those students studying wholly overseas, 13% were studying within the European Union and 87% were studying outside the European Union.

Figure 11 - HE student enrolments based wholly overseas by location and type of provision

Academic years 2014/15 to 2018/19


National Statistic

Release date

16 January 2020, 9:30

29 January 2020, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

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Rebecca Mantle

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