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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2021/22 - Subjects studied

Statistical Bulletin SB265

What are students in HE studying?

We present a three-year time series only for data on subjects. This follows the implementation of Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) to replace our older subject coding scheme (JACS) in 2019/20. A Common Aggregation Hierarchy (CAH) was developed in part to act as a 'bridge' between the two coding frames. Following analysis of the quality characteristics of CAH (please see the notes from the last year’s bulletin for further details), HESA has decided not to use CAH for time series analysis of older data within this bulletin. However, we are currently conducting a data-driven investigation into the use of a time series including both JACS and CAH.

In 2021/22:

  • Business and management was the most popular subject among students, with 19% of all students enrolling in this subject, up from 17% in 2020/21 and 16% in 2019/20. Of the 55,490 overall increase in Business and management, 42,350 was attributed to non-EU postgraduate (taught) enrolments (see Table 52 for a detailed breakdown of subject by domicile).
  • First year enrolments in business and management increased by 12%. Combined and general studies saw the second largest percentage increase with 11%. 
  • Language and area studies is the only subject which had reduced enrolments in both 2020/21 and 2021/22. The number of students in language and area studies decreased by 5% compared with 2020/21. While subject classification definitions pre-2019 are not directly comparable, we have previously reported a decline in the study of languages. The data indicate that this trend has continued.
  • The decline in numbers enrolled in language and area studies is seen at providers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, but not in Scotland, where numbers have increased.
  • Overall, 57% of students are female. In veterinary sciences, psychology and subjects allied to medicine close to 4 in every 5 students are female and the proportion of students within each of these subject areas who are female has increased in 2021/22. 
  • Males make up 43% of students overall but engineering and technology and computing had the highest proportion of male enrolments at 79% and 77% respectively. The proportion of male students enrolling in these subjects decreased in 2021/22.

Figure 13 - HE student enrolments by CAH level 1 subject and sex

Academic years 2019/20 to 2021/22

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 law will be counted as 0.67 FPE in business & administrative studies and 0.33 FPE in law. See the subject of study definitions for more detail.

How are science subjects defined?

The science grouping is an aggregation of CAH level 1 codes CAH01 through to CAH13 and CAH26 with the exception of CAH26-01-03 (Human geography). CAH26 (Geographical and environmental studies) has been disaggregated so that CAH26-01-03 (Human geography) is presented in the non-science grouping labelled as 'Geographical and environmental studies (social sciences)'. All other CAH level 3 codes within CAH26 are presented in the science grouping labelled as 'Geographical and environmental studies (natural sciences)'. This grouping of science subjects has been created by HESA.

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. Download the Common Aggregation Hierarchy version 1.3.4 (.xlsx) to see more detail of HECoS codes included within each CAH grouping.

What is the ‘combined and general studies’ subject area?

Combined and general studies 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.

Figure 14 shows the percentage of students of certain characteristics, studying science subjects.

  • Between 2020/21 and 2021/22, there was a slight increase in the percentage of females studying science subjects, but this remains lower than the overall percentage studying science subjects (45%).
  • The proportion of students with a known disability enrolled in science subjects has increased by 1 percentage point every year since 2019/20.
  • First year enrolments of students of Black ethnicity in science subjects maintained at the same proportion as 2020/21 after an increase from 43% in 2019/20 to 46% in 2020/21. 

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

Academic years 2019/20 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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Rebecca Mantle

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