Patterns and Trends in UK Higher Education, published by Universities UK on 15 November, collates information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency and other sources about 2012-13, the first year of the new charging regime.
The report confirms that the number of first-year undergraduates enrolled at institutions across the UK fell by 16.7 per cent in 2012-13, compared with the previous year. The number of first-year postgraduates also dropped, by 3.8 per cent.
This contributed to an overall drop in student numbers at all levels of 6.3 per cent. England was disproportionately affected, with its total falling by 7.3 per cent.
Writing in the report’s introduction, Paul O’Prey, the vice-chancellor of the University of Roehampton, says that while growth is expected to return, the dip “illustrates the ongoing need for the sector to demonstrate its value to prospective students”.
The report says that the decline in part-time study continued into 2012-13, with the number of students in this category falling by 24 per cent from 2009-10.
It shows a drop of 1 per cent in non-European Union student numbers in 2012-13, with science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects affected most dramatically. Considered in isolation, they experienced a 2 per cent drop.
Professor O’Prey identified a number of gaps in knowledge, calling for more data on alternative providers and massive open online courses to be collected.
The report also considers a number of longer-term trends, including the emergence of a younger student population. The number of undergraduate students aged under 30 increased by 250,000 in the decade to 2012-13, with the number of postgraduates in the same category increasing by 70,000.
In the same period, the number of undergraduates aged 30 and over decreased by 159,000, and the number of postgraduates in this grouping decreased by 9,000.
Looking at changing subject choices, the report reveals that the three biggest “winners”’ in absolute terms over the decade to 2012-13 were biological sciences, business and administrative studies, and creative arts and design. Their student numbers increased by 57,860 (40 per cent), 44,905 (15 per cent) and 33,730 (24 per cent) respectively.
In contrast, the number of students taking computer science dropped by 45,735 (34 per cent) and 50,850 fewer students (42 per cent) chose to follow combined programmes.
The report concludes by looking at staffing and finances.
There were 382,515 staff employed by higher education institutions in 2012-13, up by 13.1 per cent over a decade. Among academic staff, the proportion of academic staff working part time grew from 29 per cent to 34 per cent over this period.
In 2012-13, 53 per cent of academic staff held a doctorate. The highest qualification held by 30 per cent of academics was a postgraduate or other higher degree, while 14 per cent only had an undergraduate qualification.