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You are reading: Higher education in England 2014: Analysis of latest shifts and trends

HEFCE Report published April 2014, 2014/08


  1. The past few years have been a time of fast-paced change in higher education in England. Shifts in some areas have been more pronounced than in others.
  2. In 2013-14 we have seen numbers of full-time entrants at undergraduate level recover, following a dip in the previous year, and a levelling-off of a recent decline in postgraduate full-time entrants.
  3. Last year, we noted the major decline in entry to part-time courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. In this report we have been able to explore this change in more detail, identifying a range of factors affecting the drop in  numbers, including economic influences and public policy decisions.
  4. We are seeing major changes in entry to undergraduate courses other than traditional bachelors degrees, which overlap significantly with the part-time issues. Increasingly, at undergraduate level higher education institutions are focusing on first degrees such as BA and BSc, while other undergraduate courses are now more likely to be provided in further education colleges (FECs). Students with alternative providers who access student loans are mainly enrolled on HND courses.
  5. There is a slowdown in international student entrants, which is more pronounced at postgraduate level.
  6. Interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics continues to grow, whereas modern foreign languages continue to decline. The world-class nature of research and knowledge exchange is maintained. The UK produced 15.9 per cent of the most highly cited articles in the world in 2012 – much higher than its 6.4 per cent share of global articles – and is ranked fifth in the world in one survey of business-university collaboration.
  7. Higher education is always responding to changes. Universities, colleges and students will respond to – among other things – economic conditions, the demands of employers and businesses, and broader social trends. Changes can be local or national; increasingly, they are international. Students and universities and colleges will seek to chart their courses accordingly – making decisions and investing time and money in relation to a wide range of differing goals.
  8. This report further develops our own and others’ previous analyses – for example, on part-time undergraduate education it follows some of the further lines of inquiry proposed in recent reports by Universities UK and the Higher Education Policy Institute. Overall, it aims to provide an overview of recent shifts and trends, building a picture of higher education in England in 2014 and a sense of how it got to where it is. It also considers possible further changes and continuities in the year ahead. We hope that it will stimulate debate and discussion to inform future directions for higher education providers and for students.

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