Recent trends in student numbers in London

Using the latest published HESA data for 2014/15, in this blog I take a brief look at trends in numbers of students in higher education (HE) in London. The 2015 General Election and the June 2016 vote to leave the EU will not yet have impacted on these figures.

In 2014/15 there were 369,900 HE students at 39 HE institutions in London, excluding about 7,000 students writing up dissertations or carrying out sabbatical duties.

Total numbers of HE students in London have declined by 42,400 since 2011/12, driven by aggregate reductions of UK undergraduate and postgraduate students. Likely reasons for this decline are some potential students, resident outside Greater London, will have concerns about costs of being a student in London, and/or a lack of awareness of the many attractive features to living in the capital.

There were 104,600 overseas students (Other EU and Non EU) in London comprising 28% of all HE students in London, and 24% of all overseas students in the UK were studying in the capital. Nearly 33,700 students came from other EU countries (27% of the UK total). Although overall numbers of students from Other EU and non-EU countries appear to be stable, they mask increases at research intensive HE institutions and reductions at low student entry tariff institutions.

Reflecting long-term efforts, and success, to improve social mobility and London’s ethnic diversity, students from BAME backgrounds made up 46% of all UK-domiciled students in London. This compares with 17% of students at all other HE institutions in the rest of the UK.

One aspect of the student body in London we are keen to investigate, but have little information on at the moment, concerns the rise and different expectations of ‘commuter students’. Namely, students who live at home and/or at a distance from their place of study, and who often incur major travel time. Their student experience needs are likely to be different to ‘traditional’ students, which may well feed into NSS satisfaction scores and affect TEF scores for a certain number of HE institutions in London.

Regarding participation of white working class boys in HE, preliminary analyses of UCAS acceptance data by AccessHE suggests in London a significantly greater proportion than expected study creative arts and design courses. More work is being done in what is an area of growing concern, and we know that many institutions in London are targeting new initiatives for this demographic group.

From the outset the previous and current Governments have set out to introduce new legislation for HE (viz. the Higher Education and Research Bill now progressing through Parliament). More recently, the Home Office has raised the prospect of even tighter Tier 4 visa conditions for international students. These combined with, of course, the Brexit vote to leave the EU have generated much uncertainty in and around the HE sector.

For instance greater visa restrictions could impact future overseas student recruitment, remembering after the Brexit negotiations have been completed then students from EU countries could be reclassified as overseas students.

London has an unrivalled, world-leading cluster of diverse HE institutions and is a magnet for students from outside the UK. It is vitally important, not just for these institutions, but for London and the UK that our international reputation is undamaged and students from outside, as well as inside the UK, continue to want to study in the capital and feel encouraged – not discouraged – to do so, especially as competitor countries are raising their recruitment efforts already.

London Higher is already active in addressing these key issues around student numbers. Many of our advisory groups and networks are looking at particular aspects with a view to retaining London’s attractiveness to students from the UK and elsewhere. I’ll be writing more about these efforts in future blogs.