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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2018/19 - Subjects studied

Statistical Bulletin SB255

What are students in HE studying?

Between 2017/18 and 2018/19:

  • Business & administrative studies, social studies and biological sciences rose in popularity for first year undergraduate students from 2017/18 to 2018/19 with business & administrative studies seeing the highest increase in students enrolled. Medicine & dentistry had the largest percentage change in students between the two years.
  • Medicine & dentistry increased by 10% for first year undergraduate students.
  • The number of first year undergraduate students taking subjects allied to medicine has shown a small increase in 2018/19 following the removal of NHS bursaries from August 2017.
  • Agriculture & related subjects, languages and combined subjects were the only subjects to decline in popularity for first year postgraduate students.
What if a student studies more than one subject?

Figures in subject tables are Full Person Equivalent (FPE). If a student on a course (an 'instance') studied more than one subject then that instance is split between those subjects. For example, a student studying ⅔ business studies and ⅓ french will be counted as 0.67 FPE in business & administrative studies and 0.33 FPE in languages. See the subject of study definitions for more detail.

Figure 12 - HE student enrolment subject area changes between 2017/18 and 2018/19



What is the ‘subjects allied to medicine’ subject area?

Subjects allied to medicine are those related to human health such as nursing, pharmacy and anatomy. Over half of students in the subjects allied to medicine subject area study for nursing qualifications. See this list of principal subjects included in each subject area for more detail.

What is the ‘combined’ subject area?

Combined is only used for students on courses which do not specify a subject specialism. The majority of students in the combined subject area study at The Open University.

Over the five year period 2014/15 to 2018/19:

  • Business & administrative studies attracted the highest number of students.
  • Veterinary science had the lowest number of students however this did increase by 42% over the five years.
  • The most popular subject amongst females was subjects allied to medicine. Business & administrative studies was the most popular subject amongst males.
  • The number of students studying science subject areas has increased year on year, with the greatest increases seen in computer science and biological sciences.

Figure 13 - HE student enrolments by subject area and sex

Academic years 2014/15 to 2018/19

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Subject choice and sex of students in APs

  • The most popular subject amongst both females and males was business & administrative studies.

Subject choice and age of students in APs

  • In 2018/19, creative arts & design was the top subject choice amongst students aged 20 and under.
  • Among students aged 30 and over, business & administrative studies was the most popular.

Subject choice and ethnicity of students in APs

  • Of UK domiciled students in 2018/19, 82% of those studying creative arts & design were White.
  • Among those choosing to study business & administrative studies, 57% were Black and Minority Ethnic (BME).
  • Of first year students studying social studies, 56% were Black.
  • Asian students made up 19% of enrolments in law courses.

Figure 13a - Alternative provider student enrolments on designated courses by subject area and personal characteristics

Academic years 2015/16 to 2018/19



Figure 14 shows the percentage of students of certain characteristics, studying science subjects. Over the academic years 2014/15 - 2018/19, there was an increase in the percentage of female students studying science subjects, but this remains lower than the total sector percentage.

Figure 14 - Percentage of HE student enrolments in science subject areas by personal characteristics

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)


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