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Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20

Statistical Bulletin SB258


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

Academic years 2010/11 to 2019/20

  • First degree courses remained the most popular type of higher education, as enrolments in other types of undergraduate courses continued to fall, with a decline of 6% each year from 2017/18 to 2019/20.
  • Postgraduate taught courses saw an increase in first year student numbers in recent years, particularly 2019/20. From 2017/18 onwards, the rise was largely due to an increase in enrolments from non-European Union (non-EU) students (see figure 9 for details of these students).
  • Postgraduate research course enrolments for first year students decreased by 9% from 2018/19 to 2019/20 after an increasing trend in recent years.
  • 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 2010/11 to 2019/20

  • There was a decrease in the number of qualifications obtained in all levels for the 2019/20 academic year, despite growth in the overall number of first year students in preceding years. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. 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.
  • The number of other undergraduate qualifications continued to decline, reflecting the decrease in first year other undergraduate student enrolment numbers.

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 first 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.

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 are two known areas in which the pandemic has had some impact:

  • There is evidence to suggest that among a few providers, administrative hold-ups related to the pandemic resulted in significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported.
  • In relation to classifications of first degrees and other awards, many providers issued public statements that a 'no detriment' approach would be adopted when it came to assessment. This typically ensured that students would be awarded a final grade no lower than the most recent provider assessment of their attainment.

Further details about the impact of COVID-19 on this release can be seen in the notes.

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

27 January 2021, 9:30



Release frequency

Annual - view all releases (1998/99 onwards)


Children, education and skills

Issued by

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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