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Latest trends in UK higher education – Sector Response

Universities UK published today its latest “Patterns and trends report” which presents a range of data and analysis on the changing size and shape of UK higher education.

The report covers the decade between academic years 2006-7 and 2015-16, a period that has seen a transition to new higher education funding systems across a large part of the UK.

This year’s report includes a forward-looking chapter on some of the emerging demographic, technological, economic and political changes and the opportunities and challenges for the sector.

Key points from the report include:

  • Disadvantaged backgrounds – Students from a wider range of backgrounds are now entering higher education, with the number of 18-year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time undergraduate courses increasing by 52% since 2006 and reaching record levels in 2016.
  • Demand for courses – Entrants to full-time first-degree, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research courses have increased considerably since 2006–07 (by 31.2%, 30.5% and 25.7% respectively), and the proportion of 18 year olds applying and entering HE were at record levels in 2016. However, demand for part-time courses has continued to decline, with entrants to part-time first degree courses falling by 28.6% and entrants to other part-time undergraduate courses by 63.1% since 2006-07.
  • International staff – Non-UK nationals accounted for nearly two thirds of growth in all academic staff since 2006-07. For some subjects, such as engineering, and the humanities and language-based studies, non-UK nationals have accounted for most of the growth in academic staff numbers (63.5% and 54.6% of growth between 2006–07 and 2015–16 respectively).
  • Staff equality and diversity – Between 2009–10 and 2015–16, consistent increases are reported in the number and proportion of both black and minority ethnic (BME) and female professors. BME professors increased by 50.7% over the period (compared to 10.5% for white staff) and female professors increased by 41.8% (compared to 6.5% for males), however both groups are still under-represented among professors in 2015-16.​
  • Employment – Young and older graduates have had consistently lower unemployment rates and higher earnings compared with non-graduates, even during recessions. In 2016, graduates aged 21-30 were 40% less likely to be unemployed compared to non-graduates in the same age group.

Commenting on the report, Dame Julia Goodfellow, President of Universities UK and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Kent, said:​

“The report covers a ten-year period that has seen significant changes for universities, both in terms of the way they are funded and their increasingly important roles locally and internationally. During this time, there has been continued growth in the overall demand for university courses and the number of younger students from disadvantaged backgrounds has increased.

“However, UK universities continue to face a number of challenges, including the possible impact of Brexit. We have to continue to work hard to attract the staff, students, funding and partnerships that are central to the sector’s, and the country’s, success.”

This report, published annually by Universities UK, presents a comprehensive range of data and analysis on the changing size and shape of UK higher education, based on information from a range of publicly available sources including the Higher Education Statistics Agency, UCAS and Office for National Statistics among others.

Raj Tulsiani, CEO of Green Park commented:  “Despite initiatives to improve diversity in the UK education sector, from local schools where only 2.4% of leaders are ethnically diverse to our top universities, progress continues to stall. Ethnocultural diversity levels in Russell Group Universities are on average 97.6% white, making it less diverse than boards of FTSE 100 companies, despite being objectively tasked to further the educational needs of the whole of Britain’s society.
“Furthermore, Ofsted and Ofqual, the organisations that regulate the UK education sector, demonstrate even worse results, with top management being 100% white. To deal with the challenges ahead and our shifting demographics, the education sector as a whole must reposition itself as the employer of choice, focusing on traditional values of service and equality but with a much more modern approach.”

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