Skip to main content

Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20 - Notes

Statistical Bulletin SB258

Who produced this Statistical Bulletin?

This bulletin has been produced by HESA in collaboration with statisticians from the Department for Education, the Office for Students, the Welsh Government, the Scottish Government and the Department for the Economy Northern Ireland. It has been released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

What is the coverage of data in this release?

There are notable changes to the coverage of data in this year's release. In the previous issue of this publication, Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2018/19 we reported data about all publicly funded HE providers in the UK (and the University of Buckingham) and HE level provision at further education (FE) colleges in Wales. This equated to all providers submitting data to the HESA Student record. A later supplement to the release added in separate additional tables and charts relating to data reported within the HESA Alternative provider student record (from 2019/20 this became known as the Student alternative record). This year we are combining data from both records into the same tables and charts to coincide with regulatory changes in England that mean boundaries between the two HESA student records become less clear cut.

A noteable change in England from 2019/20 was the introduction of the Office for Students’ (OfS) Register and the two types of registration categories available to providers in England; Approved (fee cap) and Approved. Providers in both registration categories are included in the Student and Student alternative records from this year. Further information relating to the OfS Register can be found in section III of the pdf document Securing student success: Regulatory framework for higher education in England.

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 previously published) this release additionally offers the option to download the source data for each table and chart based on that record alone. This can be done by clicking the link to 'Download source data 051 record only (csv)' underneath each table and chart.

 Other coverage changes to be aware of include:

  • Data about students and qualifiers from Ballet West have been excluded from historic years of data in this release. This HE provider located in Scotland chose to optionally return data to HESA for a number of years until 2018/19. Please note that data for this provider has been included in data previously published by HESA from the Alternative provider student record.
  • Data for students enrolled on HE level courses at further education (FE) colleges in Wales have only been collected in the HESA Student record from 2016/17.
  • Data was first collected for the Alternative provider student record in 2014/15. There have been several coverage changes to this record over the years, most notably in 2016/17 when Alternative Providers with degree awarding powers were first required to return data about students on Masters taught designated courses. Additionally in 2017/18 when all providers in the record were required for the first time to return postgraduates on both taught and research courses.

In relation to the Aggregate offshore record as used in figure 12 of this release, there have been coverage changes worth noting this year as well. In 2018/19 and earlier years, the Aggregate offshore record included all publicly funded HE providers in the UK and the University of Buckingham. From 2019/20, coverage expanded to include all English providers registered with the Office for Students’ (OfS) in the Approved (fee cap) and Approved categories and all publicly funded HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This represents a higher number of providers falling within coverage this year. In 2019/20, 164 HE providers reported aggregate offshore data to HESA. This increased from 142 in 2018/19.

Also from 2019/20, additional data was required for the first time from HE providers in England and Wales to include students who were dormant for the entire reporting year. Students at HE providers in England and Wales who were dormant for the entire year have been excluded from this release, except in the circumstance that they successfully complete their course during the reporting year.

It should be noted that for many years Oxford Brookes had a very large population of offshore students. The provider changed thier 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.

What changes have there been to subject data this year?

2019/20 saw the introduction of a new subject coding system, the Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS). This replaced the previous subject coding system, the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS) used in years prior to 2019/20. In addition to HECoS, a Common Aggregation Hierarchy (CAH) was introduced this year with the aim of providing standard groupings across both HECoS and JACS subjects, to aid time series analysis.

In preparation for the release of this bulletin, HESA investigated the quality characteristics of the CAH by comparing 2019/20 data with data from 2018/19. CAH groups were derived for each dataset, to look at changes in how students were distributed in each year. Preliminary analysis revealed that a small overall average change in the distribution of students masks wider underlying variations. Many individual CAH level 1 groups show more substantial changes in the numbers of students allocated to them (see figure 19). This was also true among CAH level 3 groups. These differences appear to reflect underlying changes to courses, as well as movement from the many ‘others in…’ categories within JACS to the precisely defined subjects in HECoS. It was determined that these inconsistencies meant CAH v1.2 should not be used for presentation of our initial outputs containing time series. HESA will undertake further investigation and publish a more detailed analysis shortly.

Figure 19 - HE student enrolments by CAH level 1 subject and sex

Academic years 2018/19 to 2019/20


Are any changes expected for future releases?

This release contains data from the participation of local areas (POLAR) classification; a measure of relative HE participation across the UK. Some regions of the UK have traditionally high participation rates, including Scotland and Northern Ireland. Figures in these areas, when viewed in isolation could misrepresent the contribution being made to widening participation. For a number of years, HESA publications have for this reason excluded data for Scotland from POLAR figures (both where the country of HE provider or country of domicile is in Scotland).

In Northern Ireland, the Department for the Economy (Northern Ireland) recommend the use of the Northern Ireland Multiple Deprivation Measure (NIMDM) Quintiles as a more representative measure of educational disadvantage among these students. Although Northern Ireland data has historically been included in POLAR figures published by HESA, recognising the possibility for misrepresentation of this data coupled with the availability of NIMDM as an alternative in some HESA published tables from January 2019, HESA are proposing to remove Northern Ireland data from POLAR figures in all publications from January 2022. If you wish to provide feedback on this proposal, please email [email protected].

Has data for earlier years been revised?

This release uses revised data returns (the 'fixed' database) for time series figures. The fixed data return facility provides HE providers with the opportunity to make post-collection amendments to their HESA return. The fixed database remains open for between 6 and 15 months following the closure of the corresponding live data collection and usually becomes available at least 18 months after the original dataset is delivered. Please refer to the definitions below for detail as to which versions have been used to produce this release and the impact of these changes.

Has COVID-19 had any impact on this release?

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, just over half way through the 2019/20 academic year. Data in this release does not reflect any notable impact on student enrolment numbers due to the 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. The impact of this under-reporting is believed to explain some of the 3% decrease in the number of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 compared with 2018/19, and the impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded. It is expected that these qualifications will be returned within the 2020/21 academic year.
  • 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.

The 2019/20 data was collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Exceptional guidance was issued to HE providers regarding a number of data fields within the collections to clarify HESA's expectations about how these fields should be treated in light of the pandemic.

The impact of COVID-19 on the publication date for this release has been minimal. Previous issues of this release have been published slightly earlier, during the second week of January to cover providers from the HESA Student record. Data from the HESA Student alternative record have usually been published later, around the fourth week of January. This release combines data from both records (see notes about what is the coverage of data in this release) and is aligned with the latter date.

How to use the tables and charts

The tables and charts (labelled as figures) within this bulletin are interactive. There are options immediately above the figures to filter by data field(s) such as by first year marker or mode of study. The figures refresh to display the option(s) chosen, updating the data accordingly. The 'Reset filters' link below each figure will clear all selected options.

In the figures, 0, 1, 2 are rounded to 0. All other numbers are rounded up or down to the nearest multiple of 5 in line with the HESA rounding strategy. Percentages are calculated on unrounded data and are rounded to the nearest whole number. This means percentages may not sum exactly to 100%.

It is a criminal offence under Section 171 of the Data Protection Act 2018 for a person knowingly or recklessly to re-identify information that is de-identified personal data without the consent of the controller responsible for de-identifying the personal data.

How can I get the data in a spreadsheet?

All the data is presented in interactive tables on the HESA website and will not be published in Excel spreadsheets. Below each table you will find a link to download the table as a *.csv.

If you are planning to open the *.csv files in Excel, you must ensure you import the *.csv data, rather than just opening the file directly. This will ensure the data is presented appropriately without corrupt characters appearing. We have published instructions on how to import *.csv files in earlier versions of Excel. If you are using Excel 2016, you should select 'Data' in the top ribbon and then choose 'From Text/csv'. In the options screen, select '65001: Unicode (UTF-8)' in the 'File Origin' box; click 'Edit' and ensure that all columns are formatted as 'Text'.

How to print this bulletin

This bulletin is designed primarily for on screen users. Each section of the release can be printed by hitting Ctrl+P from within a section.

How are Open University students counted?

As in previous years of this release, enrolments and qualifications registered at one of The Open University's (OU) national centres in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will contribute to the totals of those countries where statistics are shown by country of HE provider. Please note that all non-UK domiciled OU students, those who study at postgraduate research level, and students returned in the Aggregate offshore record, are registered to the OU administrative centre in England.

National Statistics

The UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) designated these statistics as National Statistics, in accordance with the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 and signifying compliance with the Code of Practice for Statistics. A compliance check undertaken by the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) in December 2018 confirmed that these statistics can continue to be designated as National Statistics.

Designation can be broadly interpreted to mean that the statistics:

  • are of public value
  • are of high quality; and
  • are produced by departments and public bodies that can be trusted.

Once statistics have been designated as National Statistics it is a statutory requirement that the Code of Practice shall continue to be observed.

Where can I find more detail on students in higher education?

Our Higher Education Student Data, 2019/20 open data release will be published by HESA on 9 February 2021. This will provide more detailed information about students in higher education in the UK.


The data presented in this bulletin is based on the 2019/20 HESA Student, Student alternative and Aggregate offshore records. The statistics in this bulletin are derived by HESA from data collected from all publicly funded HE providers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, both Approved (fee cap) and Approved HE providers in England, and FE colleges in Wales.

Student enrolments and qualifications data was prepared in January 2021 using the following versions of the datasets:

HESA Student record

  • 2008/09 Fixed dataset, November 2011 version
  • 2009/10 Fixed dataset, September 2012 version
  • 2010/11 Fixed dataset, August 2013 version
  • 2011/12 Fixed dataset, September 2014 version
  • 2012/13 Fixed dataset, September 2016 version
  • 2013/14 Fixed dataset, February 2018 version
  • 2014/15 Fixed dataset, March 2018 version
  • 2015/16 Fixed dataset, June 2019 version
  • 2016/17 Original dataset, November 2017 version
  • 2017/18 Original dataset, January 2020 version
  • 2018/19 Original dataset, November 2019 version
  • 2019/20 Original dataset, November 2020 version

HESA Student alternative record

  • 2015/16 Fixed dataset, October 2019 version
  • 2016/17 Original dataset, January 2018 version
  • 2017/18 Original dataset, January 2020 version
  • 2018/19 Original dataset, December 2019 version
  • 2019/20 Original dataset, January 2021 version

Student enrolments and qualifications definitions

See data intelligence for specific notes about this year's student data.

Aggregate offshore definitions

See data intelligence for specific notes about this year's aggregate offshore data return.


HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.

Contact Us

Press enquiries should be directed to the Press Office at HESA, 95 Promenade, Cheltenham, GL50 1HZ, +44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 6), [email protected]. General enquiries about the data contained within this bulletin should be addressed to Rebecca Mantle, Head of Official Statistics, HESA (at the same address), +44 (0) 1242 388 513 (option 2), [email protected].

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)