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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2020/21

Statistical Bulletin SB262


Figure 1 - First year higher education (HE) student enrolments by level of study

Academic years 2011/12 to 2020/21

  • First degree courses remained the most popular type of higher education, with an increase of 8% between 2019/20 and 2020/21. Enrolments in other types of undergraduate courses saw a year-on-year increase for the first time in over a decade.
  • First year postgraduate taught numbers continued to rise, showing a 16% increase compared to the previous academic year. This increase comprises a 24% increase in enrolments from UK students and 8% increase from non-European Union (non-EU) students (see figure 9 for details of these students).
  • First year student enrolments for postgraduate research courses have returned to a similar level to 2017/18, following a 6% increase since 2019/20.
  • Note that there have been coverage changes over time in the data displayed in figures 1 and 2. See the notes below each figure, or the notes section of this release for more detail.

Figure 2 - HE qualifications obtained by level of qualification

Academic years 2011/12 to 2020/21

  • Following a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in the 2019/20 academic year, 2020/21 saw increases for all levels other than postgraduate research. This is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded in the 2019/20 academic year not being reported until 2020/21. This is likely to be linked to the impact on examinations and awards resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded (see figure 15). More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data presented in this release can be seen in the notes and the accompanying Student insight brief.
  • Despite a 13% increase in the number of other undergraduate qualifications awarded in 2020/21, the overall number remains below that of 2018/19, indicating the continued year on year decline observed over previous years.

About this release

This bulletin is the annual first release of HESA student data. It covers data about higher education students and qualifiers from the following types of providers within the UK:

  • Higher education (HE) providers in England registered with the Office for Students (OfS) in the Approved (fee cap) or Approved categories;
  • Publicly funded HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland; and
  • Further education (FE) colleges in Wales.

These providers submit data to HESA via either the Student record or the Student alternative record. This is the second year that data from both records have been combined together in the figures within this release to provide a more complete picture of higher education within the UK. Further details on coverage can be seen in the notes section of this release. For users wishing to undertake time-series analysis that make use of data drawn exclusively from the HESA Student record (and therefore comparable with the coverage of tables and charts published in previous issues of this bulletin) an option is provided to 'Download source data 051 record only (csv)' underneath each table and chart. Please note that this is the final year this option will be available. HESA do not intend to continue with the production of 051 record only source data.

This bulletin also includes information from the HESA Aggregate offshore record and can be seen in figure 12. This separate record counts students studying wholly outside the UK who are either registered with the reporting HE provider or who are studying for an award of the reporting HE provider.

Data in this release does not reflect any notable impact on student enrolment numbers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In relation to qualifications awarded however, there is evidence to suggest that among a few providers, administrative hold-ups related to the pandemic resulted in significant numbers of qualifications awarded in 2019/20 not being reported until the 2020/21 academic year.

Further details about the impact of COVID-19 on this release can be seen in the notes and the accompanying Student insight brief

Readers should be aware that data definitions sometimes change over time. This, and coverage changes can affect the validity of time series comparisons. Any significant changes have been explained in the definitions.

The student data quality report contains important information on uses and users of the data, the quality of the data and a summary of methods used to compile student data outputs.

National Statistic

Release date

25 January 2022, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

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Luke Perrott

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