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Higher Education Student Data - open data released

HESA’s open data release reveals that nursing and business studies together account for 10% of full-time first degree1 students in the UK.

Detailed data released by HESA shows the subjects2 that are most popular with students, and how these vary between different groups of students.

Nine of the top ten most popular subjects of study in 2017/18 are the same as they were in 2012/13, with nursing, business studies, psychology and design studies each studied by over 50,000 students. History by period is the only subject to fall out of the top 10 since 2012/13, replaced by economics in 2017/18.

Among non-UK domicile3 students, business studies accounted for 8% of degree level full-time students. Management studies, economics, accounting and finance were all among the top ten most popular subjects for international students.

One in five female students were studying either, nursing, psychology or design studies. The top subjects for male students were computer science, business studies and mechanical engineering.

The statistics come from What do HE students study?: Personal characteristics, part of Higher Education Student Data, HESA’s open data release of statistics for the 2017/18 academic year. The release includes detailed breakdowns of student data in five topics:

Most data tables include four years of data, with older data available through HESA’s online publications.

If you have comments or suggestions about today’s release please give feedback via the Open data feedback form.



  1. First degrees generally lead to a bachelors qualification such as BA or BSc (rather than a masters or doctorate degree). ‘First degree’ describes the course of study and may include students who already hold a first degree. See the level of study definitions for more detail.
  2. This release uses ‘principal subject’ data. There are 165 principal subjects, which are each a grouping of more detailed subject codes. In some HESA releases principal subjects are further grouped into 19 ‘subject areas’. See JACS (Joint Academic Coding System) for more detail.
  3. Non-UK domiciled means that a country other than the UK was a student’s normal place of residence before starting their course. In this release Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man residents are included in ‘UK domiciled’. See the domicile definitions for more detail.
  4. See Definitions: Students for full definitions of terms used in the release and explanation of the coverage of statistics.
  5. See Upcoming data releases for a schedule of Official Statistics releases from HESA.
  6. HESA cannot accept responsibility for any inferences or conclusions derived from the data by third parties.
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Press Officer