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The past few years have been a time of fast-paced change in higher education in England. Shifts in some areas have been more pronounced than in others.

The report available with these pages aims to provide an overview of recent shifts and longer-term trends, building a picture of publicly-funded higher education in England in 2014 and a sense of how it got to where it is. It also considers possible further changes and continuities in the year ahead.

We hope that it will stimulate debate and discussion to inform future directions for higher education providers and for students. This page gives some highlights – a wider range of analysis is available in the reports.

Entry to higher education

There is a strong recovery in the numbers of UK and other EU full-time undergraduate entrants to higher education institutions (HEIs) and further education colleges in England, which grew by 8 per cent in 2013-14 compared to 2012-13. According to UCAS application data, growth appears set to continue next year. 

Falls of around 21,000 in UK and other EU entrants to undergraduate courses that are not first degrees made up 60 per cent of the one-year dip in numbers of entrants to full-time undergraduate courses in 2012-13.

Since 2011-12 more full-time entrants to undergraduate courses other than first degrees have been studying in further education colleges than in HEIs.

For part-time undergraduate courses at HEIs and further education colleges, falling numbers of UK and other EU entrants to courses other than first degrees make up most of the recent decline – they decreased by 84,700 between 2010-11 and 2012-13 (see the chart below).

 

Source: Analysis of the HESA standard registration population at English HEIs, and the equivalent population at English further education colleges, 2005-06 to 2012-13

The number of UK and other EU students starting full-time postgraduate taught courses has shown a small increase in 2013-14. 

Part-time UK and other EU postgraduate taught entry continues to decline, but at a lower rate compared with previous years. The larger decline in entrants to part-time postgraduate taught courses between 2010-11 and 2012-13 is almost wholly attributed to a fall in entrants (18,600) in the subject area of education. 

Student characteristics

Recent trends in improvements to widening participation and fair access continue, but the gap between the numbers of students entering from advantaged and disadvantaged areas of England is still very large.

Young women are more likely to apply for, and be accepted to, higher education than men, but further analysis in this area indicates that the progression rates of young men and women to higher education are similar when attainment at A-level is taken into account. 

High-achieving A-level students tend to progress to university or college irrespective of the subjects they study, but students with lower grades are more likely to progress if they have studied ‘facilitating subjects’ (see the chart below).

Facilitating subjects are mathematics and further mathematics, English literature, physics, biology, chemistry, geography, history, and classical and modern languages,

 

Source: HEFCE analysis of linked National Pupil Database, HESA and ILR data, 2005-06 to 2012-13.

Provision of higher education

Recent changes in recruitment trends seem to have favoured particular types of institution and disadvantaged others.

The chart below shows that specialist institutions and those that tend to recruit students with higher prior achievement have fared best.

The overall increase in further education colleges reflects broader shifts away from provision franchised from HEIs, with colleges now offering more higher education directly. 

 

Source: Table 5, Column 2 in HESES/HEIFES data

Get the data from the report

Dataset for the Higher Education in England 2014 report

Download the Dataset for the higher education in England report as MS Excel Spreadsheet (165 KB)