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On 3 December, the Universities UK, the representative organisation for the UK’s universities, released this year’s instalment in its Patterns and trends in UK higher education series, which provides a snapshot of the changes and developments in the higher education sector. This edition, spanning the decade between 2004-2005 and 2013-2014, notes that the student population in the UK has become younger and more cosmopolitan.
In the academic year 2013-2014, 2.3 million students were enrolled in UK universities. Of those, two thirds (1.5 million) were studying for a first degree, 19% were pursuing a postgraduate taught degree and 5% were undertaking a postgraduate research degree, with 10% studying for other undergraduate qualifications below first degree level. Students under the age of 25 now account for three quarters of all undergraduates and a third of postgraduates. As well as being younger, students in the UK are now more likely to be studying full-time than a decade ago. Full-time students now represent 74% of the student body, up from 62% at the start of the decade. According to the report, a number of converging factors are behind the plummeting numbers of part-time and mature students. The removal of funding for students studying for equivalent or lower degrees than they already hold along with increases in fees and issues around eligibility for student loans have negatively affected the conditions for part-time study. However, despite the increasing costs of university there has been a 42% increase in the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds studying full time for a first degree.
Although a fall in the number of international students was recorded in 2013, the UK has seen an overall increase in the diversity of the students hosted by its institutions in the past decade. Between 2004–05 and 2013-2014, the share of students from the EU increased from 4.3% to 5.4%, and the proportion of non-EU students rose from 9.0% to 13.5%. The presence of international students is beneficial for all, as their demand for certain strategically-important subjects can support their provision, which is particularly true for engineering, technology and computer science programmes at postgraduate level, where non-EU students make up around half of the cohort.