Sharp drop in part-time student enrolment since tuition fee rises

Part-time student enrolments in higher education fell by 22% in the two years since university tuition fees were allowed to triple, according to new figures released last Thursday by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, or HESA.

Between 2012-13 and 2013-14, the number of part-time students fell by 2% overall. According to HESA the decline in total student numbers of nearly 41,000 was mainly because of a fall in undergraduate enrolments, down by 2%, and part-time student numbers, which fell sharply by 8%.

Higher fees and loans to blame

The University and College Union, or UCU, said the government’s controversial reforms, including higher tuition fees and new student loan arrangements for part-time students, were to blame for the sharp drop.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, said: “The people who benefit from part-time study are often mature students with existing family and work commitments. Too many people are being priced out of university because they don’t want to saddle themselves with massive debt to fund their study or pay back their fees.”

By contrast, the HESA figures show that full time enrolment increased by 1% and the number of first-year full-time students increased by 7%. Total postgraduate enrolments is also on the up, rising by 1%, while first-year postgraduate numbers increased by 4%.

The HESA figures show the UK is still facing increased demand for international study places, but not from EU students. The number of non-EU international students rose by 3% in the same period to 310,200, but the number of EU students (non-UK domiciled) remained static, at 125,300, just 10 students more than in 2012-13.

This is despite students from Croatia being classified as EU domiciled in 2013-14 but non-EU domiciled in 2012-2013 before Croatia joined the EU. The proportion of students from other EU countries overall was 5%, with 13% from non-EU countries.


At the undergraduate level – where international students favoured full-time courses – 5% of full-time students came from other EU countries and 10% from non-EU nations, whereas in part-time courses, 2% were EU students and 3% non-EU.

But at the postgraduate level, the proportions are markedly different. Among full-time students, more than half are international, with 11% from other EU countries and 46% from non-EU countries; while in part-time postgraduate courses, 5% are from other EU countries and 7% from non-EU countries.

Across the UK, there was a 5% increase in the number of students from China, but a 12% fall in the number from India and a 7% fall in those from Pakistan between 2012-13 and 2013-14. The biggest percentage rises were in students from Malaysia (up 11%), Hong Kong (13%), and Singapore (13%).

Among first-year students, there was a 4% increase in those from non-EU countries. Although numbers from China increased by 4%, the largest rise was in students from Malaysia, up 13%. The sharpest drop was in students from India (down 8%), and Pakistan (down 5%).

International students

There were two interesting differences in the share of international students among UK countries. In Scotland, students from EU countries comprised 9% of total enrolments compared with 5% in England and Northern Ireland and 4% in Wales. The share from non-EU countries was 2% lower than in England and 3% lower than in Wales while Northern Ireland really struggled to attract non-EU students who comprised 6% of total enrolments in the province.

In the same period, a 6% increase occurred in the number of students studying wholly overseas. In 2013-14, 636,675 students were studying wholly overseas compared with 598,485 in 2012-13. Of these, however, 43% are registered at Oxford Brookes University, most of them with an overseas partner on accountancy programmes.

Among students studying wholly overseas in 2013-14, 12% were studying within the EU and 88% were outside the union, compared with 13% EU and 87% non-EU in 2012-13.

The figures add to a trend of small changes in the number of UK students studying in EU countries since 2009-10, but a fast rising number of students studying outside the EU, particularly at postgraduate level, where the total has increased from just over 250,000 to more than 450,000 in five years.

Sciences attract more

There were leaps in student enrolment in some disciplines, particularly sciences. Among postgraduates there was a 20% enrolment increase in agriculture and related subjects, 8% in medicine and dentistry; 7% for biological sciences; 6% for computer science and business and administration; and 5% for subjects allied to medicine, engineering and technology; architecture, building and planning; and social studies.

But there was a 3% fall in postgraduate enrolments for law and a very slight drop for historical and philosophical studies.

At the undergraduate level, an 11% enrolment increase occurred in biological sciences, and computer science; a 7% rise for law; a 6% increase for mass communications and documentation; and a 5% rise for agriculture and related subjects, physical sciences, mathematical sciences, and business and administration.

However, there was a sharp fall of 5% for languages, a 2% fall for dentistry and a 1% drop in education enrolments.

The UCU fears the current level of tuition fees is putting people off entering higher education. It said the HESA figures show this is particularly true for part-time students, who are often older and balancing their studies alongside existing work or family commitments.

This makes them risk averse and less willing to take on large debts to pay for higher education while many potential part-time students do not qualify for government-backed student loans. Part-time courses now cost up to £6,750 (US$10,234) per year, which leads to many people being priced out, the UCU said.