Year on year, the students and the changes add up

September 22, 2000

These charts and tables give a comprehensive picture of Britain's higher education system and its evolution over almost two decades.

Compiling data is difficult. Before the Higher Education Statistics Agency arrived in 1994, there was little comparability between how data for the older universities and former polytechnics was collected. The graphics note the shift to the Hesa era. All Hesa-derived data for student numbers is based on the number enrolled at publicly funded universities on December 1 of an academic year.

Figure 1

The rise in student numbers since the mid-1960s shows how Britain's student population has been transformed by expanding access to higher education. As the numbers cover all years, they mask the fluctuations in first-year enrolments and are an indication of underlying trends.

Figure 2

Most full-time students are on first-degree courses, but a minority study part-time. From 1998-99, full-time students are defined to be those studying for at least 24 weeks in a year, or on sandwich courses and on a study-related year out of their institutions. The previous definition set the limit at 18 weeks.

Part-time students include those on block release, studying in the evening only, for fewer than 24 weeks, writing theses or on sabbatical.

Postgraduate courses lead to higher degrees, diplomas and certificates (including the postgraduate certificate of education) that usually require a first degree as an entry qualification.

Figure 3

Figures for first-year, UK-domiciled students are a guide to the principal dynamic of student recruitment.

Figure 4

Women overtook men as a proportion of the undergraduate population in 1996-97.

Figure 5

Men are still in a majority among overseas students, but women have been closing the gap.

Figure 6

Hesa figures show that more than 60 per cent of academic staff in 1998-99 had a primary function combining teaching and research. The proportion has remained remarkably constant over the years. The proportion with a research-only function continues rising fractionally.

Figure 7

Figures are for all full-time and sandwich students.

Figure 8

Part-timers make up more than a quarter of the higher education population. Part-time postgraduate study grew rapidly until the mid-1990s. Open University students were assigned from the first degree to the "other undergraduate" category in 1997-98.

Figure 9

Some qualifications obtained at first-degree level are not subject to classification of award, notably medical and general degrees. These and ordinary degrees have been included in the unclassified category. Third-class honours, fourth-class honours and the pass category have been aggregated, as have lower-second and undivided second-class honours.

Figure 10

The age participation index is the key guide to the success of access policies. It has historically been split into three ranges, all based on initial entrants to higher education.

The most frequently quoted index is for under-21-year-old home-domiciled students entering HE for the first time, expressed as a percentage of the 18 to 19-year-old population. The API (21-24) is the number of 21 to 24-year-old home-domiciled entrants as a percentage of the 21 to 24-year-old population. The API (25+) is the proportion of initial entrants to the 25 and over population.

The Department for Education and Employment has no targets for the 21-24 and 25+ age groups. It does not normally publish projections for these two age groups.

Figure 11

A record 263,671 first degrees were awarded.

Figure 13

The unit cost per full-time equivalent undergraduate. From 1998-99, students' estimated private contributions to fees are included. From 1999-2000, funding excludes the earmarked grant for capital investment and research infrastructure.

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