Hesa releases higher education student data for 2019/20

Hesa’s comprehensive open data release reveals that relatively few BAME students study at postgraduate level, and shows a significant rise in intake from countries beyond the EU

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) has released figures revealing that, while more than a quarter (27%) of UK domicile students in higher education are from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, at postgraduate level this falls to below one fifth (19%).

The finding echoes a policy briefing published last year by the UK Council for Graduate Education, which found that, at the current rate of advance, it would take 52 years for BAME participation in postgraduate research to match the equivalent proportion at undergraduate level.

Relating to enrolments between 1 August 2019 and 31 July 2020, the data highlights a halving of postgrad representation of students from both black African (6% of undergraduates, 3% of postgrads) and Pakistani backgrounds (4% falling to 2%).

Representation varies markedly across different fields of study. In medicine and dentistry, for instance, 41% of UK domicile students were from BAME backgrounds, while in the veterinary science and agriculture, food and related studies groups the number was just 6%.


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The figures form just a fraction of Hesa’s comprehensive open data release, which drills down deeply into what and where students are studying, their progression rates, personal characteristics, and where they come from.

That last area makes particularly interesting reading in the year of Brexit. While there was a marginal rise in the number of students from the EU, those from places further afield saw some significant increases. The number of entrants from China, for example, increased by fully 20%, while the proportion of first year non-UK domiciled students from India rose from 7% to 13%.

More broadly, the total number of undergraduate enrolments increased by 3%, and those starting postgraduate studies rose by 10%.

The subject groups with the most students in 2019/20 were business and management with 412,815 students (52% male), and subjects allied to medicine with 295,520 students (79% female).

Responding to the new Hesa figures, Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said there was “more to do” on widening access to higher education:

“These figures, which largely account for students starting courses before the pandemic, show a continued and steady increase in the representation of people from the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods among those in higher education. This means that more students from areas where higher education participation is low – often formerly industrial towns and parts of cities in the north and midlands, and coastal towns – are seizing the opportunities that higher education can bring.

“Some of the most substantial increases are at the most selective universities, where participation from students from disadvantaged backgrounds has traditionally been low. This is welcome, but there is more to do.

“Through the access and participation plans they have agreed with the OfS, universities and colleges have set ambitious targets to improve the rates of access to higher education. If these targets are achieved, at the most selective universities alone, 6,500 additional students from disadvantaged backgrounds will enter higher education each year by 2025. As well as ensuring disadvantaged students can get in, universities and colleges are also putting in place plans to ensure that they are able to succeed in and beyond their studies, which is crucial to their future prospects.

“We know from the latest Ucas admissions data that the rates of disadvantaged students entering higher education increased again – to record levels – in 2020. We will be working closely with universities and colleges to ensure that the significant progress to date is not stalled by the pandemic.”

To see Hesa’s data drop in full, please click here.

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