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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2021/22 - Student numbers and characteristics

Statistical Bulletin SB265

How many students are in HE?

  • The total number of HE students stood at 2,862,620 in 2021/22, an increase of 4% from 2020/21. Including HE students registered at FE providers throughout the UK, the total number of HE students was 3,007,545 (see Figure 4).
  • There was a 2% increase in first year enrolments between 2020/21 and 2021/22.
  • The proportion of students enrolled on postgraduate courses continued to increase, from 24% to 29% since 2017/18. This was mostly due to an increase in non-EU students.
  • In 2021/22, the proportion of non-EU students enrolled on masters taught courses increased by 7 percentage points relative to 2020/21, while both UK domiciled and EU domiciled student enrolments decreased by 1 percentage point in the same time period.
  • Postgraduate taught enrolment numbers have increased each year since 2014/15. Within postgraduate taught enrolments, first year non-EU masters taught student enrolments increased by 46% from 2020/21 to 2021/22. 
  • Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the numbers of first year masters taught students studying full-time increased by 52,085. This is the highest rise seen in the last five years. To the contrary, numbers in part-time decreased by 9,450. This is the first decrease since 2017/18.
  • Despite an increase of 36,225 enrolments on first degree courses in 2021/22, the proportion of the student population enrolled on first degree courses has dropped by 1 percentage point compared to 2020/21.
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.

What is 'Institutional credit'?

Learning identified as bite-sized, standalone modules of study. Covers a wide range of short-term learning; examples include Continuing Professional Development (CPD) learning for healthcare professionals, such as Advanced Skills in Clinical Assessment at Anglia Ruskin University, or standalone languages modules like those taken in King’s College London Modern Language Centre. These are not regarded as full qualifications.

Figure 3 - HE student enrolments by level of study

Academic years 2017/18 to 2021/22


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.

  • Higher Education and Further Education (FE) provider enrolments increased to 3,007,545 in 2021/22. Despite an increase in overall enrolments, those at FE providers have continued to decrease.
  • FE providers represented 5% of all HE student enrolments in 2021/22. This has decreased from 6% in 2020/21.
  • Enrolment numbers at FE providers decreased across all levels of study in 2021/22.

Figure 4 - HE student enrolments at HE and FE providers by level of study and HE provider type

Academic years 2017/18 to 2021/22


What is an FE provider?

Further education (FE) providers are typically FE Colleges or Sixth form colleges. They mainly provide further education courses (see What qualification levels mean on to students aged 16 and over, that are not at the higher education (HE) level. FE providers are generally funded by a different mechanism from HE providers and their data collected by different organisations.  

Many FE providers also provide some HE level courses. The FE funding and data collection bodies have provided aggregate statistics about students on HE courses so that we can give an overview of the full scale of higher education study in the UK.

What are the characteristics of HE students?

Sex of students

  • Of all HE students in 2021/22, 57% were female (see Figure 5). This has been the same since 2016/17.
  • A larger proportion of part-time students were female than full-time students in 2021/22.
  • Other undergraduate courses showed the greatest gap in the proportion of male and female students, while postgraduate research courses showed the smallest gap.

Age of students

  • In 2021/22, the proportion of first year UK student enrolments increased for those aged 20 and under and for those 30 years and over but decreased for those aged 21-24 and 25-29.
  • The proportion of first year non-UK student enrolments increased for those in age groups 21-24, 25-29 and 30 years and over but decreased for those aged 20 and under.
  • Over the five-year time series, the proportion of first year students of known age that were 20 and under has decreased by 5 percentage points, from 41% to 36%. Despite this change, this age group continues to be the largest.

Student disability status

  • Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the number of students with a known disability increased by 34,190 or 1 percentage point.
  • Students with a specific learning difficulty or a mental health condition form 61% of those with a known disability in 2021/22.
  • There were 144,230 students with a specific learning difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or AD(H)D in 2021/22. This number accounts for 32% of all students with a known disability. A further 131,900 students reported a mental health condition, such as depression, schizophrenia or anxiety disorder.

Religious belief of students

  • Students with no religion or religious belief account for 47% of all students.
  • In 2021/22, the proportion of Muslim and Hindu students increased while the proportion of Christian students decreased. 

Ethnicity of students

  • Students of White ethnicity accounted for 73% of all UK domiciled enrolments. This has decreased by 1 percentage point relative to 2020/21.
  • There was a greater decrease over the five-year period in the proportion of White students who studied full-time compared to those studying part-time.
  • Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the proportion of students with a Mixed ethnicity increased by 1 percentage point.
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.

Figure 5 - HE student enrolments by personal characteristics

Academic years 2017/18 to 2021/22



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 6 has been restricted to undergraduate UK domiciled full-time students.

Index of multiple deprivation (IMD) applies to student domicile, other domicile IMD data will be hidden when a country is selected. The various indices of multiple deprivation use similar methodologies, but differ in the indicators used, the time periods included and the sizes of the areas they cover. These factors mean that IMD is not comparable between UK administrations.

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

  • Since 2015/16, the proportion of students from a state-funded school or college has remained constant at 91%.
  • The proportion of students from a state-funded school or college was greater for those enrolled in other undergraduate courses compared with those in first degree courses.
  • In 2021/22, half of the students enrolled in first degree courses with known parental education had one or more parent(s) that attained a higher education qualification. This compared with 32% for those enrolled in other undergraduate courses.
  • Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, the proportion of other year undergraduate students from a low participation neighbourhood increased by 1 percentage point.

Figure 6 - UK domiciled full-time HE undergraduate student enrolments by participation characteristics

Academic years 2017/18 to 2021/22



National Statistic

Release date

19 January 2023, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

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HESA, 95 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ

Press enquiries

+44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 6), [email protected]

Public enquiries

+44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 2), [email protected]


Rebecca Mantle

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