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Patterns and trends, 2015

3 December 2015
Eleanor Jubb

Eleanor Jubb

Policy Manager
Universities UK
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Today Universities UK publishes the 2015 edition of its long-standing annual report, Patterns and trends in higher education​​. This year’s edition covers the ten years between 2004–05 and 2013–14, showing the changes over the period in the student and staff body and university funding and finances.

One thing that leaps out from this year’s report is how much the student body has changed over the period. As well as growing from 2.2 million to 2.3 million over the 10 year period, the make-up of the student body has changed considerably. Students are more likely to be studying full-time and are younger. There are more international students and more students from disadvantaged backgrounds than ever before.

Full-time students made up nearly three quarters of all students in 2013–14, up from just over 60% in 2004–05, and they’ve become a much more important part of both undergraduate and postgraduate provision. This is something which we examined in more detail in 2013, and the picture has become starker since then, with the total number of part-time students 29% lower in 2013–14 than in 2004–05.


At the same time, there has been a fall in the number of older students, with under-25s now making up three quarters of all undergraduate students and a third of postgraduates. This will have been affected in part by the falls in part-time study as people aged 25 and over tend to make up a much larger proportion of those studying part-time (81% of them in 2013–14). It’s also likely to have been affected by the steep falls in students on ‘other undergraduate’ courses (like foundation degrees and certificates and diplomas), as over-25s make up a much higher proportion of these students.


While the proportion of young, full-time students has been growing, the student body has been becoming more diverse in other ways. International students now make up 19% of the student body, up from 13% in 2004–05, and at postgraduate research level students from outside the UK now make up over two-fifths of all students. This growth hasn’t been straightforward though. The number of students coming from outside the UK fell in 2012–13 and although they’ve grown again, students coming from India ­– the second largest source of international students – have continued to fall, as they have for the past five years.


The student body has also become more diverse in terms of student background, with 42% more students from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time first degree programmes in 2014 than in 2005. This has been one of the outstanding successes of the decade and is an area where universities are continuing to focus their efforts. The prime minister has set a goal of doubling the proportion of students from the most disadvantaged areas going to university by 2020, and Universities UK is leading a task force which will make recommendations to minister for universities on how to meet that goal and widen participation to higher education.


The publication​ can be accessed on our website.

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