Skip to main content

Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20 - Where students come from and go to study

Statistical Bulletin SB258

Where are students in HE studying?

In 2019/20, 271 HE providers reported student data to HESA. More information on what this means in terms of coverage of the higher education sector is given in the about this release section. Figure 7 shows the number of students studying at each HE provider in the UK in 2019/20, with a breakdown by the geographic location of students' permanent home address prior to study (known as domicile).

In 2019/20, The Open University maintained its position as the provider with the most student enrolments. In the top five providers, University College London retained it's second position above The University of Manchester. Coventry University gained 3,445 student enrolments compared with the previous year and overtook The University of Leeds for fourth place.

Figure 7 - HE student enrolments by HE provider and domicile

Academic year 2019/20


HESA does not collect information on UK students who go abroad to study, but more information on these students can be found through United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Where do HE students come from?

  • Proportions of students from outside the UK varied by level and mode of study. Full time postgraduates had the highest percentage from non-European Union countries.

Figure 8 - HE student enrolments by level of study, mode of study and domicile

Academic year 2019/20



  • UK students made up the largest proportion of enrolments in 2019/20.
  • From 2018/19 to 2019/20 there was a increase of 60,310 non-UK student enrolments. Most of this increase was among non-EU students.
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.

Figure 9 - HE student enrolments by domicile

Academic years 2015/16 to 2019/20


The cross-border flows of first year students from the UK shows that the majority of students stay in their home country, although those from Wales and Northern Ireland were more likely to cross borders than those from England and Scotland. The proportion of movements remains roughly the same year on year in general. There was a lower percentage of students from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland enrolling at English providers in 2019/20 compared to 2015/16.

Figure 10 - UK domiciled first year HE student enrolments by domicile and country of HE provider

Academic years 2015/16 to 2019/20

Domicile Country of HE provider


Figure 11 shows the 2019/20 ranking of the top 10 European Union and non-European countries of domicile (excluding the UK) for HE student enrolments and the change since 2015/16. Due to overlapping data points on these charts, zoom functionality has been inbuilt.

Within the European Union:

  • More students from Italy enrolled at UK providers in 2019/20 than any other EU country.
  • Romania has replaced Germany for third position in student enrolment numbers from the EU at providers in England.
  • For providers in Scotland, more students from Germany have enrolled than other EU countries.

Outside the European Union:

  • China sent more students to the UK than any other overseas country. In 2019/20, 35% of all non-EU students were from China. The number of students from China has increased by 51,140 or 56% over the five year period 2015/16 to 2019/20.
  • While the numbers of student enrolments from India are not as high as from China, there has been a notable increase of 38,580 over the five year period. Looking at figure 10 of the 2018/19 issue of this bulletin for comparison, it can be seen that a large influx took place in 2019/20. Students from India represent 14% of all non-EU enrolments in 2019/20.
  • Students from the United States place third in enrolments from outside the EU, but this and other countries are more in line with the numbers of enrolments from EU countries.
  • Student numbers from Malaysia saw a decline of 23% over the five years, dropping below enrolments from India and Hong Kong.

Click and drag to highlight an area on the chart below to zoom in. Right-click to reset the view.

Figure 11 - Top ten EU and non-EU countries of domicile (excluding the UK) in 2019/20 for HE student enrolments

Academic years 2015/16 and 2019/20


What students are registered at UK HE providers, but studying overseas?

Figure 12 shows information from the HESA Aggregate offshore record, capturing students studying wholly outside the UK who are either registered with a UK HE provider or who are studying for an award of a UK HE provider. Notable changes to the record in 2019/20 mean this data should be interpreted with caution. Further information on coverage is given in the notes section of this release.

  • Oxford Brookes changed their reporting practices for the 2019/20 academic year around which students they include in their Aggregate Offshore return. This led to a drop of 256,450 students this year for this provider, resulting in a significant drop to the overall number of student enrolments based wholly overseas. Excluding Oxford Brookes from the data shows that there was otherwise an increase of 22,090 enrolments for HE providers in England between 2018/19 and 2019/20 from 332,390 to 354,485. Of the 22,090 additional enrolments, 8,245 were from HE providers new to the dataset this year.
  • From 2018/19 to 2019/20, there were increases in overall enrolments among providers in Scotland and Northern Ireland, 1,515 and 75 respectively. Enrolments from 2018/19 to 2019/20 for providers in Wales decreased by 1,550.
  • In 2019/20 distance, flexible or distributed learning was the most popular type of provision for those studying in the EU. Whereas, for those studying outside the EU, other arrangement including collaborative provision saw the highest number of enrolments.
  • Over the five year time series, postgraduate study in EU countries has increased year on year. Enrolments for postgraduate study outside the EU has increased since 2018/19.

Figure 12 - HE student enrolments based wholly overseas by location and type of provision

Academic years 2015/16 to 2019/20


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

Pre-release access

View pre-release access list for this release

Please email questions or comments to [email protected].
Thank you for helping us to improve this publication.


Department for Education

Welsh Government logo

Scottish Government logo

Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland)