The Higher Education (HE) student timeline
Applications to Higher Education
Prospective full-time undergraduate students apply to Higher Education (HE) through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) prior to the start of the academic year. UCAS publishes statistics on the number of applicants to full-time undergraduate courses, as well as the number of applicants who have been accepted. UCAS figures provide the first indication of trends in HE student numbers in a given academic year. Data is available from 1996/7 academic year of entry and covers the whole UK. The latest statistics can be found in the Media Release section of the UCAS website.
UCAS does not cover part-time undergraduate students, nor those who apply directly to institutions; application data on such students is not held centrally. Furthermore, some accepted applicants to HE choose not to take up their place, or may decide to defer their studies. Therefore in any given academic year, the UCAS accepted applicants group is not equivalent to the actual HE entrant population.
UCAS has facilitated some postgraduate applications via UKPASS (UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service) since 2007, and UCAS also handles applications to postgraduate teacher training courses. However many postgraduate students continue to apply directly to institutions so comprehensive information on all postgraduate applications is not held centrally. Further information about UKPASS is available at the UKPASS website.
When a prospective student applies for a place on a HE course, they can apply for financial support through the Student Loans Company (SLC). Information on the financial support available to HE students in England is available on the DirectGov website.
Each year, Student Finance England (SLC’s England operations) publishes Official Statistics on student finance applications and payment processing at intervals between the first application deadline (31 May) up to the start of university term-time (around October). These statistics have been published since the 2009/10 academic year, in response to increased levels of public interest in SLC’s progress with support payments, and cover England. Links to these statistics can be found on the Student Support Applications page.
The SLC annually publishes National Statistics on Student Support Awards (loan rates, loan take-up, grants awarded etc) in November. This release has been published since the 2004/05 academic year for England. A link to these statistics can be found on the Student Support page.
SLC also publishes equivalent National Statistics on Student Support Awards for Wales and Northern Ireland.
Early student number statistics
The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) collects and publishes information on students in the current academic year, from the Higher Education Students Early Statistics (HESES) and Higher Education in Further Education: Students Survey (HEIFES). These are the first comprehensive set of statistics on student numbers to appear in the public domain based on the HEFCE administrative returns – they contain elements of forecasting and estimation. They are published as part of HEFCE’s grant announcement.
When students start their HE course, they are recorded on the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Student Record. The HESA Student Record is more comprehensive than the UCAS data as it covers all students at UK Higher Education Institutions (undergraduate, postgraduate; home and overseas students; full-time, part-time and other modes of study) by a wide variety of fields. For example, level of study, domicile, subject of study, class of degree etc. HESA annually publishes a Statistical First Release in January, covering student entrants, enrolments and qualifications obtained (since the 2005/06 academic year in its current form). This covers UK HE institutions.
A link to the latest release can be found on the Higher Education Student Enrolments and Qualifications page. In addition to its National Statistics products, HESA also publishes a number of student data tables on their website. These cover UK HE institutions, with some country-level information.
HESA also produces the “Performance Indicators in Higher Education” which provide comparative data on the performance of institutions in widening participation, student retention, learning and teaching outcomes, research output and employment of graduates. They cover UK-domiciled students at publicly-funded higher education institutions in the UK. HESA has published the Performance Indicators since the 2002/03 academic year. Before then, they were published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England from the 1996/97 academic year.
- the Performance Indicators are published on the HESA website.
- the HEFCE Performance Indicators are published on the HEFCE website.
There is a difference between overall HE student numbers and the number who are funded (in the case of England, via HEFCE). The grant letter to HEFCE from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills sets out HE funding decisions.
BIS publishes the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR) as part of the Participation Rates in Higher Education Statistical First Release in March each year. The HEIPR roughly equates to the probability that a seventeen year old will participate in higher education by age thirty given the age specific participation rates. HEIPR figures have been published going back to the 1999/2000 academic year, although the current methodology only allows a comparable time series back to 2006/07. A link to the latest release can be found on the Participation Rates page.
HEIPR is an England-based participation rate; the Devolved Administrations also produce HE participation measures which fulfil their own measurement requirements.
Six months after graduation, HESA carries out the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey to gather information regarding graduates’ post HE destinations. This data is published annually in July as a Statistical First Release and has been released since the 1994/95 academic year, covering UK HE institutions. A link to the latest release can be found on the Destinations of Leavers page.
The proportion of graduates in employment or further study by Higher Education Institution is also published separately in July as one of HESA’s Performance Indicators, as mentioned above.
Annual overview of HE
HESA publishes an annual National Statistics Volume in September (since the 1996/97 academic year). This covers HE applicants and acceptances (from UCAS), student support awards (from SLC), student entrants, enrolments, qualifications obtained, destinations of graduates, staff and finance of HE institutions (from HESA), international comparisons of participation and graduation rates (from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD) and HE qualification levels in the population (from the Office for National Statistics, ONS). The volume covers UK HE institutions. A link to the latest release can be found on the Higher Education Statistics for the United Kingdom page.
Repayment of student loans
Once graduates start work and begin to earn a salary over the repayment threshold, they enter into repayment of their student loan. The SLC publishes National Statistics on loan outlays, repayments of loans and borrower activity annually in June; these releases have been available from the 2004-05 financial year for England. A link to the latest of these publications can be found on the Student Loans page.
- SLC also publishes equivalent National Statistics on Student Loans for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
SLC publishes additional Official Statistics which provide more detailed breakdowns of information from the above National Statistics on student loans, focusing on the loans system which has been in operation since 1998/99, and showing repayments by tax year time series back to the 2000-01 financial year. A link to the latest of these publications can be found on the Income Contingent Repayment page.
- SLC also publishes equivalent Official Statistics for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Longer-term graduate destinations
HESA carries out the Longitudinal Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey on a biennial basis to gather information regarding graduates’ longer-term destinations, three and a half years after graduation. The first survey covered those who graduated in 2002/03. This data is published biennially in September as an Official Statistics publication, and covers UK HE institutions. A link to the latest release can be found on the Longitudinal Destinations page, and on the Press Release section of HESA’s website.
Other forms of Higher Education in the UK
Publicly-funded HE institutions provide the majority of HE provision in the UK; however there are other routes available as follows:
There are many private providers of HE courses in the UK. These are not subject to public funding and the associated controls on student numbers, but they do offer legitimate courses leading to recognised HE qualifications. Data is not routinely collected from private providers of HE, however HESA collected some information during the 2009/10 academic year, which covered private providers of HE in the UK.
Further Education colleges
A significant proportion of UK HE students gain their qualifications through study at further Education (FE) colleges. Some of these colleges provide HE provision through franchising arrangements with a HE institution (i.e. the HE institution awards the qualification following study at the FE college). FE data is collected separately by each country of the UK. In England, such data is collected by the Skills Funding Agency.