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 2020, there were over 2.53 million students at UK universities. Among people aged between 30 and 34 in the United Kingdom, half were educated to a tertiary level, one of the highest shares in Europe. Additionally, there were around 729 thousand applications to study at university in 2020, 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 2019 there were 164 universities and higher education institutions in operation. 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 over 41 thousand students attending in 2019/20, followed by Manchester University which had just almost 40.5 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 35 percent in 2019/20. In the same year, the most popular subject group for students in the UK was business and management studies, with almost 413 thousand enrollments. Depending on where students study in the UK, they will graduate with varying levels of student loan debt. Students graduating in England in 2021 will have accrued on average over 45 thousand British pounds worth of debt, compared with just under 27.6 thousand British pounds in Wales, 24.7 thousand British pounds in Northern Ireland, and just under 15.2 thousand British pounds in Scotland. As of 2021, Scotland does not charge tuition fees, while the other three countries of the UK do, explaining the relatively large disparity in student debt.

Interesting statistics

In the following 4 chapters, you will quickly find the 21 most important statistics relating to "Higher education in the UK".


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