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Patterns and trends in UK higher education 2014

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This year’s Patterns and trends report continues the series on changing trends in higher education and takes the story up to academic year 2012–13.

It presents a picture of a sector at the beginning of a significant period of change. 2012–13 was the first year of the new undergraduate funding regime, which in part contributed to a decline of 6.3% in student enrolment. While growth is expected to return after 2012–13, this dip illustrates the ongoing need for the sector to demonstrate its value to prospective students.

The higher education sector continues to make a crucial contribution to the UK’s development as a world-leading advanced economy. Over half of those in employment aged between 30 and 34 now have a higher education qualification, compared to 36% in 2003. In difficult conditions graduates continue to experience better outcomes than non-graduates in both lifetime earnings and employability. The sector’s economic contribution is further demonstrated by the continued growth of knowledge exchange income to £3.6 billion, a real terms increase of 45% since 2003–04.

Key points in UK higher education 2014 include:

  • Part-time / Post-graduate – The decline in numbers studying part time has continued, as has the recent reversal of the growth in postgraduate taught study that happened over the past decade, with a 7% drop in postgraduate taught numbers between 2011–12 and 2012–13.
  • Gender + age profiles – Between 2003–04 and 2012–13, the number of undergraduate students aged 30 and over decreased by 159,000. Variations in the gender balance in different subjects also persist and need to be given careful consideration if the sector is to continue to produce a balanced graduate population.
  • European Union – The importance of the relationship with Europe to the sector in terms of funding is demonstrated by the continued growth in research funding to £690 million, up from £221 million in 2003–04.
  • Non-EU international students – This year’s report shows that the UK’s international market share increased from 10.7% in the year 2000 to 12.6% in 2012.
  • Employment – Over half of those in employment aged between 30 and 34 now have a higher education qualification, compared to 36% in 2003. In difficult conditions graduates continue to experience better outcomes than non-graduates in both lifetime earnings and employability.
  • Economic Impact – The sector’s economic contribution is further demonstrated by the continued growth of knowledge exchange income to £3.6 billion, a real terms increase of 45% since 2003–04. While there has been a surplus of £1.23 billion in 2012–13 on the sector level, there are variations at institution level and surpluses have become an ever more important part of institutions’ strategies for financing new capital investment, particularly now that public capital funding for teaching and research is significantly lower than historical levels.

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