Skip to main content

Higher Education Student Statistics: UK, 2019/20 - Qualifications achieved

Statistical Bulletin SB258

How many HE qualifications were achieved?

The total number of qualifications achieved in 2019/20 was 800,335. This was a decrease of 3% in the number of qualifications achieved in comparison to 2018/19. Evidence suggests that some of this decrease is explained by significant numbers of qualifications awarded this year not being reported. This was because a few providers experienced administrative hold-ups related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The impact is most noticeable on the number of part-time qualifications awarded. More details of the impact of COVID-19 on the data presented in this release can be seen in the notes.

  • First degree qualifications reported this year fell by 9,175 compared with those reported in 2018/19. Most of this decrease was among part-time first degree qualifications.
  • Masters taught qualifications were the only level to show an increase from 2018/19 to 2019/20. An increasing trend of qualifications from 2016/17 aligns with the increased uptake of masters students following the introduction of postgraduate loans.
  • Females accounted for 2,620 of the 2,710 increase in all masters taught qualifications from 2018/19 to 2019/20.
  • In 2015/16, masters taught qualifications accounted for 22% of all qualifications awarded. By 2019/20 this increased to 26%.

What is a qualifier?

A qualifier is a student who gained a qualification during the academic year in question. This is useful for restricting data to a cohort of graduates. See the qualifications obtained population definitions for more detail.

Figure 15 - HE qualifications obtained by level of qualification

Academic years 2015/16 to 2019/20



Of those gaining a classified first degree:

  • The percentage of students achieving a first class honours increased from 28% in 2018/19 to 35% in 2019/20. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, 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. More details on the impact of COVID-19 can be seen in the notes section of this release.
  • The share of students who received a lower second qualification classification fell by 4 percentage points from 19% in 2018/19 to 15% in 2019/20.
  • A larger proportion of female students gained a first or upper second class honours than male students.
  • In a continuing trend, full-time students had a larger proportion of first or upper second class honours than part-time students.

There were 20,595 students who qualified with an unclassified first degree in 2019/20. This mainly includes degrees that don't have a classification, such as medicine. These students are excluded from figure 16 but included in the total number of first degree qualifiers in figure 15.

Figure 16 - Percentage of first degree qualifiers obtaining each classification

Academic years 2015/16 to 2019/20


Figure 17 shows that in 2019/20:

  • More qualifications were awarded in business and management than any other subject.
  • Among the science subject group, more qualifications were awarded in subjects allied to medicine than any other subject.
  • Of students receiving qualifications in subjects allied to medicine, 79% were female.

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') studies more than one subject we apportion that instance between those subjects. For example, a student studying ⅔ Business studies and ⅓ French will be counted as 0.67 FPE in Business & administrative studies and 0.33 FPE in Languages.

Figure 17 - HE qualifications obtained by CAH level 1 subject and sex

Academic year 2019/20

  • The percentage of qualifiers who gained qualifications in science subjects increased according to age group.
  • Among qualifiers obtaining a first degree, there was a 50% split between males qualifying in science subjects versus those qualifying in non-science subjects. For females, the proportion qualifying in science subjects was 41%.

Figure 18 - Percentage of HE student qualifications obtained in science subjects by personal characteristics

Academic year 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

This page uses Google tables. These do not display in some older versions of the Microsoft Edge web browser.

Great! Please tell us more if you have the time, or just click Submit to let us know. 

More detailed data will be published soon in a further open data release - see upcoming data releases.

Please tell us what would have met your needs:

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)