Skip to main content

First year HE student numbers exceed one million mark

2003/04 Student enrolment data released

The number of first year HE students at publicly-funded higher education institutions in the UK passed the million mark for the first time in the 2003/04 academic year. There were 1,012,215 first years in 2003/04 compared to 977,010 in 2002/03. This is a rise of 3.6 per cent. In 2003/04 the entire HE student body numbered 2,247,440 compared to 2,175,115 in 2002/03.

The number of first year non-UK students has also increased, from 142,355 in 2002/03 to 154,710 in 2003/04. Students from countries outside of the UK now make up 15.3 per cent of first years (14.6 per cent in 2002/03) and 13.4 per cent of students from all years.

Students studying in their first year of a first degree programme increased by 8.6 per cent to 431,235 in 2003/04 (397,265 in 2002/03). First year postgraduate student numbers were up by 5.6 per cent to 262,955 (249,115 in 2002/03). The number of first year students studying other undergraduate programmes, for example HNDs, fell by 3.8 per cent to 318,025 from 330,625.

At 58.8 per cent (594,685) first year female students continue to outnumber males (41.2 per cent, 417,530). These figures compare to 58.1 per cent and 41.9 per cent respectively in 2002/03.

This data is the first analysis of enrolment numbers from the 2003/04 student dataset, which became available this month. HESA will release the reference volume Students in Higher Education Institutions, 2003/04 in March 2005 providing more detailed information on the characteristics of the UK student population.

Notes for Editors

  1. Press enquiries should be directed to:
    HESA Press Officer
    01242 211133
    [email protected]
    95 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ.
  2. HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.
  3. Definitions of the terms used in this press release follow:


    Higher education (HE) students are those students on programmes of study for which the level of instruction is above that of level 3 of the National Qualifications Framework, i.e. courses leading to the Advanced Level of the General Certificate of Education (GCE A-levels), the Advanced Level of the Vocational Certificate of Education (VCE A-levels) or the Advanced Higher Grade and Higher Grade of the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA) Advanced Highers/Highers).

    The HESA Student Record contains information about individual enrolments, which, because a student can be enrolled on more than one programme of study, will exceed the number of students. Postdoctoral students are not included in the HESA Student Record.

    The HESA standard registration population has been derived from the HESA Individualised Student Record and ensures that similar activity is counted in a similar way irrespective of when it occurs. The population splits the student experience into ‘years of programme of study’; the first year of which is deemed to start on the commencement date of the programme with second, and subsequent years, starting on, or near, the anniversary of that date. Registrations are counted once for each ‘year of programme of study’. Short course registrations are counted in the standard registration population regardless of whether they are active on the 1 December of the reporting period. However students who leave within 2 weeks of their start date, or anniversary of their start date, and are on a course of more than two weeks duration, are not included in the standard registration population. Dormant students, incoming visiting and exchange students from overseas and students studying for the whole of their programme of study outside of the UK are also excluded from this population.

    Rounding strategy

    Due to the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998, HESA implements a strategy in published and released tabulations designed to prevent the disclosure of personal information about any individual. These tabulations are derived from the HESA non-statutory populations and may differ slightly from those published by related statutory bodies. This strategy involves rounding all numbers to the nearest 5. A summary of this strategy is as follows:

    • 0, 1, 2 are rounded to 0
    • All other numbers are rounded to the nearest 5.

    So for example 3 is represented as 5, 22 is represented as 20, 3286 is represented as 3285 while 0, 20, 55, 3510 remain unchanged.

    Level of study

    The level of study is taken from the qualification aim of the student.

    Postgraduate programmes of study are those leading to higher degrees, diplomas and certificates (including Postgraduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) and professional qualifications) and usually require that entrants are already qualified to degree level (i.e. already qualified at level 3 of the National Qualifications Framework).

    First degree includes first degrees with or without eligibility to register to practice with a Health or Social Care or Veterinary statutory regulatory body, first degrees with qualified teacher status (QTS)/registration with the General Teaching Council (GTC), enhanced first degrees, first degrees obtained concurrently with a diploma and intercalated first degrees.

    Other undergraduate includes qualification aims below degree level such as Foundation Degrees, diplomas in HE with eligibility to register to practice with a Health or Social Care regulatory body, Higher National Diploma (HND), Higher National Certificate (HNC), Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE), foundation courses at HE level, NVQ/SVQ levels 4 and 5, post-degree diplomas and certificates at undergraduate level, professional qualifications at undergraduate level, other undergraduate diplomas and certificates including post registration health and social care courses, other formal HE qualifications of less than degree standard, institutional undergraduate credit and no formal undergraduate qualifications.

    First year students

    First year students are based on the HESA standard registration population who commenced their programme of study in the reporting period relevant to the data collection year.


    Domicile data is supplied to HESA in the form of postcodes (UK domiciled students) or country codes. Postcodes are mapped to counties, unitary authorities and UK nations following consultation with Geoplan Postcode Marketing. Countries are mapped to geographical regions following consultation with the Department for Education and Skills. Where no data is supplied about the student’s domicile, fee eligibility is used to determine whether domicile is European Union, including the UK, or not.

    UK domiciled students are those whose normal residence is in the UK, including the Channel Islands and Isle of Man.


Press Release

Press Officer