Nearly 55,000 fewer part-time students were studying in the UK in 2013-14 than in 2012-13, with overall numbers dipping to 603,325 last year, according to data released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency on 15 January.
Four years earlier the total number of part-time students was close to 900,000, but numbers have been since been hit hard by year-on-year decreases.
That trend continued last year when new part-time enrolments fell by 7 per cent to 281,635, although this drop was less severe than in 2012-13 when new enrolments shrank by 22 per cent.
Full-time undergraduate enrolments fared far better in 2013-14 when ministers made available an extra 30,000 student places and gave universities more scope to recruit above their student number quotas.
Overall first-year enrolments for those taking their first degree rose by 8 per cent to 467,860 in the last academic year – a rise of nearly 35,000 in total.
With first-year postgraduate enrolments also increasing by 4 per cent last year, the number of full-time students rose by 7 per cent in 2013-14 to almost 1.7 million, Hesa says.
It meant that just 28 per cent of UK students now study part-time, compared with 31 per cent in 2012-13.
The total number of undergraduates in the UK fell by 2 per cent given the fall in part-time numbers, Hesa says.
First-year undergraduate enrolments rose or remained the same in all subjects in 2013-14, except in languages, where intake decreased by 5 per cent, in medicine and dentistry (a 2 per cent fall) and in education (1 per cent down).
The number of international students rose by 3 per cent to 310,195, Hesa says.
It adds there were more first-year students from China (58,810 in total) than from the whole of the European Union excluding the UK (57,190).
However, Gordon Slaven, the British Council’s director of higher education, also pointed out that the number of students coming from India had fallen by 12 per cent and Pakistan by 7 per cent.
“While the UK sector can be pleased that the overall numbers have increased, our competitor countries such as the USA and Australia, have shown much more significant increases.
“This highlights the need for the UK to take a much more proactive and united approach to attracting highly talented student from around the world to reduce the risk of losing our share of the international student market.”