Higher education in the UK - statistics & facts

Higher education is undertaken by an increasing number of people across the globe, and with one of the most prestigious and established university systems anywhere in the world, the United Kingdom is no exception. As of 2019, there were over 2.38 million students at UK universities, and while the majority were undergraduate students, over 585.7 thousand were postgraduate students. Among people aged between 30 and 34 in the United Kingdom, almost half were educated to a tertiary level, one of the highest shares in Europe. Additionally, there were around 706 thousand applications to study at university in 2019, an increase of over 300 thousand when compared with 1994, when there were 405 thousand applications.

Oxford retains top spot

As student numbers has increased, so has the number of universities in the UK. As of 2018 there were 143 universities in operation, 23 more than there were ten years earlier in 2008. The very first university in the UK is also the highest rated. In 2020, Oxford University, founded in 1096, was the highest ranked university in the United Kingdom, with it's traditional rival Cambridge, founded by exiles from Oxford in 1209, in second place. Neither Oxford or Cambridge were the largest universities in terms of student numbers, however, with that particular honor going to University College London, which had almost 42 thousand students attending in 2018/19, followed by Manchester University which had just over 40.2 thousand.

Grades, subjects and debt

The top grade possible for undergraduates in the UK is a first-class with honors, and although the second highest grade (an upper second, or 2.1) is still the most common, the share of students graduating with a first has increased from 17 percent in 2011/12 to 28 percent in 2018/19. In 2018/19, the most popular subject group for students in the UK was business and administrative studies, with almost 358.5 thousand enrollments. While business studies was the most popular degree choice for male students, the most popular subject for female students were subjects allied to medicine, at over 229.8 thousand attending in 2018/19. Depending on where students study in the UK, they will graduate with varying levels of student loan debt. Students graduating in England in 2020 will have accrued on average over 40 thousand British pounds worth of debt, compared with just under 25 thousand British pounds in Wales, 23.5 thousand British pounds in Northern Ireland, and just 13.9 thousand British pounds in Scotland. As of 2020, Scotland does not charge tuition fees, while the other three countries of the UK do, explaining the relatively large disparity in student debt.

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Higher education in the UK

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