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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2017/18 - Student numbers and characteristics

Statistical Bulletin SB252

How many students are in HE?

Figure 3 shows:

  • The total number of HE students stood at 2,343,095 in 2017/18, an increase of 1% from 2016/17.
  • Masters taught courses attracted an increasing number of first year students beginning in 2016/17. This initially coincided with the introduction of postgraduate loans for masters' students, but in 2017/18 was mostly due to an increase in non-EU students.
  • Other undergraduate first year student numbers have continually declined over the period 2013/14 - 2017/18. This is apparent at all levels of other undergraduate study.
  • Part-time student numbers continue to decline overall, but first year enrolments onto part-time first degree courses have increased between 2016/17 and 2017/18. Around half of this increase is attributed to an increased uptake in apprenticeships.
What does ‘first degree’ mean?

First degrees generally lead to a bachelors qualification such as BA or BSc (rather than a masters or doctorate degree). ‘First degree’ describes the course of study and may include students who already hold a first degree. See the level of study definitions for more detail.

Figure 3 - HE student enrolments by level of study

Academic years 2013/14 to 2017/18


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.

What are the characteristics of HE students?

Sex of students

  • 57% of all HE students were female in 2017/18 (see Figure 4).
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students.
  • For other undergraduate students, 63% were female, compared with 49% of postgraduate (research) students.
  • Participation rates in higher education data published by the Department for Education in September 2018 highlight the gap in sexes and summarise that it continues to be more likely for a female to attend higher education than a male.

Age of students

  • There was a year on year decline in the number of students aged 30 and over, between 2013/14 and 2017/18. This is related to the decline in the number of part-time students, because the number of full-time students aged 30 and over has increased every year since 2014/15.
  • Numbers of full-time students aged 20 and under have increased year on year since 2013/14.
  • Data on entry rates into higher education published by UCAS in November 2017 show that the 18 year old entry rate was the highest on record in 2017 (for UK domiciled undergraduate students). For older age groups, entry rates declined.

Ethnicity of students

  • The percentage of UK domiciled students that are White has decreased over the last five years, as the percentage that are Black, Asian, Mixed and from Other ethnic backgrounds has increased.
  • HE providers in England show the largest decrease and the lowest proportion of UK domiciled students that are White compared to HE providers in all other countries of the UK.

Figure 4 - HE student enrolments by personal characteristics

Academic years 2013/14 to 2017/18


What does ‘UK domiciled’ mean?

UK domiciled means that the UK was a student’s normal place of residence before starting their course. In this release Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man residents are included in ‘UK domiciled’. See the domicile definitions for more detail.

Widening participation data is only returned to HESA for students who apply through UCAS, so to align with the cohort who typically enter through this route, Figure 5 has been restricted to undergraduate UK domiciled full-time students. For the first time this table contains data on deprivation measures specific to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Low participation neighbourhood information comes from the participation of local areas (POLAR) classification, which is maintained by the Office for Students. This data shows:

  • Of first degree first year students, a higher proportion were from a low participation neighbourhood in 2017/18 compared with the previous four years.
  • A higher proportion of other undergraduate students were from a low participation neighbourhood than first degree students across the five year time series.

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

Academic years 2013/14 to 2017/18



National Statistic

Release date

17 January 2019, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

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