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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

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