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.

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Higher education institutions (2018–19)

In 2018–19, there were 165 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.


Student numbers in UK higher education (2018–19)

In 2018–19, there were 2.38 million students studying at UK higher education institutions.

  • Undergraduate: 1.80 million
  • Postgraduate: 0.59 million 
  • Full time: 1.88 million
  • Part time: 0.5 million 
  • Students from the UK: 1.9 million
  • Students from the EU: 0.14 million 
  • Students from non-EU countries: 0.34 million

(Source: HESA Student record 201819)

Staff numbers in UK higher education (2018–19)

In 2018–19, there were 439,955 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 14% 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 2018–19)

Student satisfaction (2020)

The latest National Student Survey, published in 2020, found that 83% 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: 2020 National Student Survey)

Widening participation (2020)

In 2020, a record 23.3% of UK 18-year-olds from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR4 quintile 1) were accepted to study a full-time undergraduate degree through UCAS, compared to 14.0% in 2011.

  • The entry rate of state school students in England who, while aged 15, were in receipt of free school meals, has increased from 13.2% in 2011 to 20.3% in 2020. 

(Source: UCAS 2020 End of Cycle data resources).

Applicants and acceptances (2020)

A record 570,475 people were accepted through UCAS to start an undergraduate course in the 2020 cycle.

  • In 2020, 728,780 people applied through UCAS to an undergraduate course.

(Source: UCAS 2020 End of Cycle report)

Working with business and industry (2018–19)

  • In 2018–​19, 3,825 new graduate start-ups were created.
  • 131 new university-owned or part-owned spin-off companies were created.

 (Source: HESA Higher Education - Business and Community Interaction (HE-BCI) survey 2018–​19)

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)

Graduate employment (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  (2014) 

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 

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.



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