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Contents

  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Data sources
  • Overall trends in PhD starters
    • Mode on commencement
    • Domicile
    • Subject area
  • Trends in PhD starters by student attributes
    • Sex
    • Age on commencement
    • Ethnicity
    • Disability status
    • Qualification in previous year
  • Trends in PhD starters by course attributes
  • Major source of tuition fees
  • Annex A HESA student record data definitions
  • Annex B Additional table for subject area by domicile
  • List of abbreviations

Executive summary

Purpose

1.   This report describes the characteristics of starters to doctoral degree courses in UK higher education institutions between 1996-97 and 2009-10, and the attributes of their courses.

Key points

Overall trends in PhD starters

2.   The analysis conducted considers changes over two periods: 1996-97 to 2009-10, the complete time series available; and 2007-08 to 2009-10, which gives an indication of recent trends and excludes the break in the time series between 2006-07 and 2007-081. To allow us to use the most recent data for those students starting a doctorate by research course, students who started an MPhil and moved to a doctorate by research are excluded from this analysis.

3.   Between 1996-97 and 2009-10, full-time PhD programmes had the biggest percentage increase in the number of starters: up 81 per cent from 9,990 to 18,0752. But between 2007-08 and 2009-10, the biggest percentage increase in the number of starters was to part-time PhD programmes: up 16 per cent from 4,070 to 4,715.

4.   The numbers of PhD starters, to full- and part-time courses, from a UK domicile have seen the biggest percentage increases of any domicile group between 2007-08 and 2009-10, 21 and 17 per cent respectively. But between 1996-97 and 2009-10, there were larger percentage increases in students from outside the UK: for both EU (excluding UK) and international starters on full- and part-time courses.

5.   When considering trends in starters to particular subject areas, there were significant differences across the subjects. For example when considering starters to full-time courses between 1996-97 and 2009-10, the number more than quadrupled in creative arts/design but remained broadly unchanged in veterinary sciences/agriculture.

Trends in PhD starters by student attributes

6.   The largest percentage changes in the number of starters to full-time PhD programmes between 2007-08 and 2009-10 were seen for the following types of students:

  • females (grew by 15 per cent) – in 2009-10 there were 8,135 female starters compared to 7,070 in 2007-08
  • students aged 21 or under on commencement (grew by 23 per cent from 640 to 785)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those from a Black or Black British ethnicity (grew by 29 per cent from 165 to 215)
  • students declaring a disability (grew by 36 per cent from 720 to 975)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those with a masters qualification in the year prior to commencement or a higher degree awarded two years or more before commencement (grew respectively by 38 per cent from 710 to 980 and 36 per cent from 2,045 to 2,775)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those with either an institution or the Government as their major source of funding for tuition fees (grew respectively by 55 per cent from 1,560 to 2,415 and 47 per cent from 450 to 665).

7.   The largest percentage changes in the number of starters to part-time programmes between 2007-08 and 2009-10 were seen for the following types of students:

  • males (grew by 16 per cent) – in 2009-10 there were 2,420 male starters compared to 2,080 in 2007-08
  • students aged 24 or 25 on commencement (grew by 29 per cent from 185 to 235)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those from an Asian or Asian British ethnicity (grew by 38 per cent from 175 to 240)
  • students declaring a disability (grew by 22 per cent from 200 to 240)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those with a higher degree awarded two years or more before commencement (grew by 37 per cent from 1,335 to 1,830)
  • of UK-domiciled starters, those with the Government as their major source of funding for tuition fees (grew by 43 per cent from 175 to 250).

Action required

8.   No action is required in response to this document.


Notes

  1. This break is a result of a change in the Higher Education Statistics Agency's data collection: it switched from collecting qualification aim to course aim data. See Annex A for further details.
  2. All starter numbers refer to the headcount of starters.

Date: 17 October 2011

Ref: HEFCE 2011/33

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Research, Student data, Planning, Postgraduate research