Home > Facts and stats > Higher education in numbers

Higher education in numbers

Key facts and figures about UK higher education, from the numbers of undergraduate and postgraduate students to how much universities contribute to the UK economy.

Higher education institutions (2017–18)

In 2017–18, there were 164 higher education institutions in the UK that returned data to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). This webpage includes data from these institutions, plus the University of Buckingham. For further information on higher education institutions visit HESA's website.

136 of these are Universities UK members.


Student numbers in UK higher education (2017–18)

In 2017–18, there were 2.34 million students studying at UK higher education institutions.

  • Undergraduate: 1.77 million
  • Postgraduate: 0.57 million 
  • Full time: 1.84 million
  • Part time: 0.5 million 
  • Students from the UK: 1.88 million
  • Students from the EU: 0.14 million 
  • Students from non-EU countries: 0.32 million

(Source: HESA Student record 201718)

Graduate employment (2016–17)


Staff numbers in UK higher education (2017–18)

In 2017–18, there were 429,560 staff (excluding atypical staff) employed at UK higher education institutions.

  • Staff employed on academic contracts made up 49% of the population
  • 18% of academic staff with a known nationality had an EU (non-UK) nationality, while 13% had a non-EU nationality
  • 7% of non-academic staff with a known nationality had an EU (non-UK) nationality, while 4% had a non-EU nationality.

 (Source: HESA Staff record 2017–18)

Income and expenditure (2017–18)

Figures for 2017–18 show that the total income for the sector was £38.2 billion. This was made up from the following sources:

  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £18.9 billion 
  • Funding body grants: £5.1 billion
  • Research grants and contracts: £6.2 billion
  • Investment income: £0.2 billion
  • Donations and endowments: £0.6 billion
  • Other income: £7.2 billion.

Figures for 2017–18 show that total operating expenditure by the sector was £37.2 billion.

(Source: HESA Finance record 2017–18)

The economic impact of universities (2014–15)

In 2014–15, universities across the UK generated £95 billion in gross output for the economy.

  • The UK university sector contributed £21.5 billion to GDP, representing 1.2% of the UK's GDP
  • The sector also supported more than 940,000 jobs in the UK.

 ​(Source: UUK (2017) The economic impact of universities in 2014–15)

University research

The 2014 Research Excellent Framework rated 76% of the research submitted as 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent'. (Source: Research Excellent Framework (REF) 2014)

  • UK academic research productivity is 3.6 times the world average 

Working with business and industry

  • In 2017–​18, 4,024 new graduate start-ups were created
  • 125 new university-owned or part-owned spin-off companies were created.

 (Source: HESA Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey 2017–​18)

Student satisfaction

The latest National Student Survey, published in 2019, found that 84% of students were satisfied with the quality of their course.

  • 84% of respondents agreed that they were happy with the teaching on their course
  • 86% of respondents were happy with their learning resources
  • 83% were happy with their learning opportunities.

 (Source: 2019 National Student Survey)

Widening participation

In 2018, 20.7% of English domiciled, 18-year-olds from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR3 quintile 1) entered higher education, compared to 11.2% in 2006.

  • The entry rate of state school students in England who, while aged 15, were in receipt of free school meals, has increased from 9.2% in 2006 to 17.3% in 2018. 

(Source: analysis of UCAS 2018 End of Cycle report).

Neither the Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited nor HESA Services limited can accept responsibility from any third parties from data or other information obtained from Heidi Plus.


A-level results day and Clearing 2019: reasons to be cheerful

12 August 2019
As A-level results day approaches, UUK’s Daniel Wake looks at recent trends in university admissions, and provides some final information to applicants, who for the first time can choose to put themselves into ‘Clearing’.


​Time is running out to save Erasmus+: Losing study abroad scheme would blow a hole in UK economic prospects

9 March 2020
More than 17,000 UK university students are hoping that the UK Government can negotiate continued involvement in Erasmus+ in its trade discussions with the European Union so they can develop important and necessary skills overseas next year.

Universities UK welcomes UCAS figures on disadvantaged students

28 November 2019
Universities UK (UUK) today welcomes figures showing that disadvantaged students are 61% more likely to enter university now than they were ten years’ ago.