Trendspotting: how the profile of higher education is

September 24, 1999

These charts and tables give the most comprehensive picture available of Britain's higher education system and its development over almost two decades.

Compiling information is fraught with problems, perhaps the most troublesome being that before the arrival of the Higher Education Statistics Agency in 1994 there was limited compatibility between the way data for the older universities and the former polytechnics were collected.

Where appropriate, the graphics show when the transition to the HESA era took place, but that should be treated with discretion because of potential differences in the basis for collection of information when they involve a long time period.

All HESA-derived data for student numbers is based on the standard HESA student population: the number enrolled at publicly funded universities and colleges on December 1 of the relevant academic year.

Figure 1 The rise in student numbers since the mid-1960s illustrates dramatically 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 for undergraduate courses and are a clear indication of the underlying trend.

Figure 2 The majority of full-time students are on first-degree courses, while they form a minority of those studying part-time.

Full-time students include all students studying for more than 18 weeks in the academic year, those on sandwich courses and on a study-related year out of their institutions.

Part-time students include those on block release, studying in the evening only, full-time but for less than 18 weeks, writing theses and on sabbatical.

Postgraduate programmes lead to higher degrees, diplomas, certificates (including the postgraduate certificate of education) and professional qualifications, which usually require a first degree as entry qualification.

Figure 3 The figures for first-year UK-domiciled students are a guide to the dynamic of student recruitment. The trend continues to a peak of 64,6746 in 1998/99.

Figure 4 The striking phenomenon of the 1980s and 1990s was the closing of the gap between the sexes, with women outnumbering men for the first time in 1996/97.

Figure 5 Although female overseas students have narrowed the gap, men still remain in a majority.

Again, the trend has been inexorably upwards despite the imposition of full cost fees for non-European Union citizens.@FIGS = Figure 6 HESA figures show that more than 60 per cent of academic staff in 1996/97 had a primary employment function combining teaching and research.

This proportion has remained remarkably constant over the past years, while the proportion with a research-only role (29.5 per cent) has risen fractionally as the total academic workforce has grown by more than 11 per cent over the same period.

The figures relate to individual academic appointments (of at least 25 per cent full-time equivalence) active during the academic year August 1997 to July 1998.

Figure 7 The sequence shows women becoming a larger proportion of an increasing population over a 15-year period. Figures are for all full-time and sandwich students.

Figure 8 Part-time students make up about one third of the higher education population - a significant rise over the period from 1982/83.

Part-time postgraduate study grew rapidly until slowing in the mid-1990s. In 1997/98, Open University students were assigned from first degree to other undergraduate.

Figure 9 Certain qualifications at first-degree level are not subject to classification. These include medical and general degrees, which, together with ordinary degrees, have been placed in the unclassified category.

Third-class honours, fourth-class honours and the pass category have been aggregated, as have undivided seconds, which have been placed with lower seconds.

Figure 10 The age participation index is the principal guide to the success of encouraging access to higher education. It is split into three ranges, all based on initial entrants to higher education.

The most frequently quoted API refers to the number of under 21-year-old home domiciled students entering a course of full-time higher education for the first time, expressed as a percentage of the 18 to 19-year-old population of Great Britain.

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 number of initial entrants aged 25 or over as a percentage of the 25-and-over population. Figures from 1997/8 are not available for these indices.

Figure 11 The number of first degrees awarded in 1997/98 reached a record 258,753.

Figure 13 The unit cost per full-time equivalent undergraduate student in England fell consistently throughout the 1990s to bottom out in 1997/98 and 1998/99.

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