Student Numbers in London

This blog follows on from pieces I have written in previous years (like right here). In it I take a brief look into student trends within London HEIs using the latest published HESA data (2015/16). You can find our comprehensive catalogue of factsheets here.

A few observations…

In 2015/16 in the UK as a whole, nearly 2.3 million students were registered at 163 higher education (HE) providers, with about 372,000 or 16% of the UK total studying at 39 HE providers in London. This is an increase from 2014/15 of 2,000 students. For London however since 2011/212 there has been a decrease over this time of 40,400 (10%) in student numbers.

Below the aggregate there are variations at degree and subject level and between different types of institutions. Broadly, however, whilst postgraduate and overseas student numbers have held up in London, there is pressure on UK full time degree numbers. Most London students in the latter group are either domiciled here, or move here from adjoining regions and the West Midlands. There has been a rise in numbers of London domiciled students choosing to study outside London; again mostly concentrated in the nearest regions. Growing numbers of students who have to – or who choose to – commute to their institution is a rising trend in London, and London Higher is looking at this separately.

The information shared below reflects the position for the academic year 2015-16. The lifting of the numbers cap previously imposed for undergraduates in England took effect at the start of the academic year. However, the vote to leave the EU took place on June 23 2016. And maintenance grants for poorer students were not removed until the start of the 2016-17 academic year. Hence the numbers we are looking at here would not been affected by either of these. In addition, with intense scrutiny being paid currently to tuition fee levels and student debt, amongst other factors, London Higher will be monitoring future trends closely.

One outstanding element of London’s student profile is the number of BAME students in our universities and HE colleges. This is as much a feature of the sector in London as the diversity of population and culture is a feature of London itself. There is an argument to say that, if universities elsewhere wish to boost their own recruitment of BAME students significantly, as prompted by David Lammy amongst others, then they perhaps need to better understand what works in and for London.

Student Numbers: Facts and Figures

In 2014/15 there were 249,000 undergraduates (67%) in London. This rose marginally in 2015/16 to 251,000. Postgraduate numbers in London have remained consistent at 121,000 (33%).

In 2015/16 there were 107,200 overseas students (Other EU and Non EU) in London, comprising 29% of all HE students in the capital – a rise from 104,400 students (28%) in 2014/15. London remains a destination of choice for international students. The importance of the Mayor’s ‘London is Open’ campaign (#LondonIsOpen) is echoed through some of London Higher’s most active networks, London Higher International for instance.

In terms of UK full-time degree students, 89,900 students domiciled in London in 2015/16 remained to study in the capital (47% of this UK student group). Whilst there have been some fluctuations over the period since 2008/09 (44%), with a peak at 50% in 2013/14, overall numbers have largely similar. 63,690 of full time degree students in 2015/16 came to London from the rest of England, mostly from the South East and the West Midlands. Conversely, 96,045 students left London to study elsewhere, with 48% of them travelling to the South East or East of England. This is an increase from the 2014/15 level of 94,000. London Higher’s ‘London Works’ initiative, with The Student Room and Marketing Directors Group, aims to help demonstrate – to students living outside and/or unfamiliar with the capital – some of the advantages of being a student in London.

In line with London HEIs efforts to increase social mobility and opportunities for BAME students, London’s student profile consists of 47% of BAME students. This figure contrasts starkly to the 18% of BAME students at all other HE providers in the rest of the UK. A quick jump onto a social media channel to see young people discussing matters of social mobility and the presence of BAME citizens in the UK suggests that while, as every sector, HE in London has further to go before the equality gap (gender disparity included) is removed; London is ahead of other regions.

The three most popular subjects undertaken at London HEIs are Business Administrative Studies (15% of students), Allied Healthcare (12%) and Creative Arts and Design (12%). This of course is very much in line with what London is renowned for as a global city – as well as in HE where our creative and medical offer, for instance, remains world leading.

Finally, of the 135,000 HE qualifications awarded in London, 47% were at postgraduate level, with 45% being for first degrees and 9% for other undergraduate degrees.

Below are some charts to accompany the statistics above.

Figure i: HE Students in London from 2005/06 to 2015/16.









Figure ii: Postgraduate and Undergraduate student trends in London.

Figure iii: HE Students in London by type of HEI, level and nationality.

Please contact Paresh Shah should you have any queries, further information can be found in our online factsheets.

Original information source for this blog: Students in Higher Education 2015/16. Higher Education Statistics Agency Limited (HESA) February 2017).