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A briefing on:
Data about demand and supply in higher education subjects


These pages show data and evidence about the current and future supply of students through subjects in higher education (HE). These latest data add the academic year 2011-12 to our existing time series. 

The data give a picture of the numbers studying at A-level, applying to, and studying in, HE at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We break down each of these categories by subject area. This presents the recent and potential flow of graduates in different subject areas.


The data inform our approach to strategically important and vulnerable subjects (SIVS). We use them to monitor where a subject might be at risk, now or soon in the future, and they help us and our partner organisations decide when, where and how to intervene. 

We do not rely only on these data. Evidence from universities, colleges, employers, the Government, and from national academies and subject associations also informs our approach. The HEFCE SIVS advisory group includes representatives from all these groups and considers these data each year. 

This year, for the first time, the subject data is broken down between several student characteristics: age, disability status, ethnicity, and an area-based classification of HE participation. 

Our analysis focuses mainly on trends in the last three years, but occasionally looks back over a longer period. We believe looking at changes in the last year of available data can be unreliable, as there are frequent fluctuations which turn out to be insignificant in the longer term. 

Key messages

In broad terms, undergraduate numbers in Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects continue to improve. In particular, maths, physics and chemistry, all of which caused concern in the last decade, are now thriving. 

The trends in engineering are broadly positive, but there is considerable reliance on overseas students. 

Across the physical sciences, there is growth in the number of women participating, although proportions are still low overall. Numbers on postgraduate taught programmes in physical sciences are falling, but this may to some degree be linked with the growth in integrated masters courses, which provide a good bridge from undergraduate study to postgraduate research.  

We remain concerned about more variable patterns in modern foreign languages. Student numbers at undergraduate and postgraduate taught level are falling. Entrants to postgraduate research programmes in modern foreign languages, however, remain buoyant.

The data on postgraduate taught programmes published here complement the report we published in July, which gave an overview of the postgraduate sector. We have also announced a £25 million pilot project to explore ways of stimulating taught postgraduate education and progression to postgraduate research through this route.

Overall numbers

Undergraduate. In the last three years, A-level entries and overall undergraduate numbers increased, continuing long-standing trends. But UCAS acceptances fell by five per cent over this period, bringing them to their lowest level since 2008-09. 

This is due entirely to the dip in acceptances in 2012-13, the first year of the new undergraduate fee and funding regime. 

Postgraduate taught. After a period of sustained growth, numbers of entrants to postgraduate taught programmes fell by six per cent in 2011-12 compared with 2010-11. This overall trend is reflected to varying degrees at subject level and among different subject groups. 

Postgraduate research. Total numbers of entrants to postgraduate research programmes rose by seven per cent over the last three years, and increases were seen in all broad subject areas. 

Integrated masters programmes. The growth of integrated masters programmes, particularly in STEM subjects, is noteworthy, particularly as these programmes provide a direct route from undergraduate study to postgraduate research.  

Entrants to these programmes increased by 100 per cent across the decade to 20,500.  Of these, 90 per cent were in STEM subjects (and more than one third in engineering and technology). Entrants in arts, humanities and social sciences also increased nearly four-fold across the decade. 


Get the data

Undergraduates in HE disciplines

Download the Subjects analysis_Undergraduates as MS Excel Spreadsheet (968 KB)

Postgraduate taught students in HE disciplines

Download the Subjects analysis_Postgraduate_taught as MS Excel Spreadsheet (898 KB)

Postgraduate research students in HE disciplines

Download the Subjects analysis_Postgraduate_research as MS Excel Spreadsheet (896 KB)

Integrated masters students in HE disciplines

Download the Subjects analysis_Integrated_masters as MS Excel Spreadsheet (967 KB)

Coverage and definition

Download the Coverage and definition as MS Excel Spreadsheet (47 KB)

About the data

The data are separated between undergraduate, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research, and cover the following time periods:

  • A-level entries 2002-03 to 2011-12
  • UCAS acceptances 2002-03 to 2012-13
  • HESA data 2001-02 to 2011-12

All data published here exclude the Open University, due to differences in data collection methods (described in more detail in the tables).

In both postgraduate taught and postgraduate research we focus on the number of students starting a postgraduate programme in each academic year.

This is a change to our previous approach. It is due to a number of changes to reporting practice within HESA student data. For the purposes of this analysis, the entrant population allows us to consider a more robust time series.

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