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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 (2014–15)

In 2014–15 there were 164 higher education providers (excluding further education colleges) in the UK in receipt of public funding via one of the UK funding councils.

135 of these are Universities UK members.


Student numbers in UK higher education (2015–16)

In 2015–16 there were 2.28 million students studying at UK higher education institutions.

  • Undergraduate: 1.75 million
  • Postgraduate: 532,970
  • Full time: 1.7 million
  • Part time: 540,285
  • Students from the UK: 1.84 million
  • Students from the EU: 127,440
  • Students from non-EU countries: 310,575 

Graduate employment (2014–15)

Figures from 2014–15 show that 90% of all graduates were in work or further study within six months of leaving university. 

  • On average, female graduates earn £250,000 more over their working lifetimes than non-graduates; male graduates earn £165,000 more. 


Staff in higher education institutions (2015–16)

  • Academic staff employed at UK universities: 201,380
  • Non-academic staff employed at UK universities: 208,750 


Income and expenditure (2014–15)

Figures for 2014–15 show that the total income for the sector was £33.2 billion. This was made up from the following public and private sources:

  • Funding body grants (teaching and research): £5.3 billion
  • Tuition fees and education contracts: £15.6 billion
  • Research grants and contracts: £5.9 billion
  • Other income: £6.1 billion
  • Endowment and investment income: £360 million

Figures for 2014–15 show that total expenditure by the sector was £31.2 billion. This breaks down into the following categories of spending:

  • Staff costs: £17.1 billion
  • Other operating expenses: £11.7 billion
  • Depreciation: £1.96 billion
  • Interest and other finance costs: £404 million


The economic impact of universities (2011–12)

In 2011–12, universities across the UK generated more than £73 billion in output for the economy.

  • Output: £73 billion
  • Contribution to UK GDP: £39.9 billion (2.8%)
  • Export earnings: £10.7 billion
  • Jobs, direct and indirect: 757,268 (full-time equivalent)


University research

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

  • UK academic research productivity is 3.6 times the world average.
  • With just 4.1% of world's researchers, the UK produces 15.9% of the world's most highly-cited articles.


Working with business and industry

In 2014–15 over 4,160 new graduate start-ups were created, supporting over 20,500 jobs (full-time equivalent [FTE]).

  • 129 new university-owned or part-owned spin-off companies were created in 2014–15, supporting nearly 12,500 jobs (FTE).
  • Industry collaboration with higher education institutions increases productivity by between 11 and 16%.
  • There are over 100 university science and enterprise parks in the UK.


Student satisfaction

The latest National Student Survey, published in 2016, found that 86% of students were satisfied with their course.

  • In 2016, overall satisfaction was the same as in 2015. Satisfaction with assessment and feedback has improved from 73% in 2015 to 74% in 2016.


Widening participation

In 2016, 19.5% of 18-year-old English-domiciled young people from low participation neighbourhoods (POLAR3 quintile 1) entered higher education, compared to 11.2% in 2006.

  • In 2016, English pupils receiving free school meal were 78% more likely to go to university than they were in 2006.
  • The number of full-time undergraduates from black and minority ethnic groups rose by 38% between 2007–08 and 2015–16.


General election 2017: tuition fees under the spotlight

15 May 2017
Juile Tam, Assistant Director of Policy at Universities UK, discusses different policies on tuition fees and the implications for universities, government and students themselves.

'Tuition fees hike' or inflationary catch-up?

26 April 2017
Julie Tam, Assistant Director of Policy at UUK, explains that, under new plans, there will be no wholesale hike in tutition fees in England.

What the British public really think about international students

13 April 2017
Karmjit Kaur, Head of Political Affairs at Universities UK, discusses the British public's perception of international students as an asset to the UK, and explains why international students should not be included in a net migration target.


Response to latest UCAS applicant figures

2 February 2017
Universities UK responded today to the latest UCAS applicant figures. They show that applicant numbers for UK students are down by 5% compared to last year, and down 7% for EU students.

Response to HESA 2015–16 student data

12 January 2017
Universities UK has responded to the latest data on students from HESA