Fewer higher education students in colleges, new figures show

Fall in numbers across the UK is put down to a drop in full-time enrolments – as part-time enrolments rose slightly

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The number of students enrolling to study on higher education courses at colleges has dropped for the first time in five years, new figures reveal.

According to statistics from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), 187,115 students enrolled on HE courses in further education institutions across the UK in 2015-16 – a drop of almost 1.5 per cent from 189,670 the previous year.

The decrease is down to a lower number of full-time enrolments, which dropped from 67,640 to 63,920 in a year. Part-time enrolment, on the other hand, rose slightly in that time.

In England alone, there were 125,060 HE enrolments at FE institutions in 2015-16, compared with 127,895 the previous year. Again, this decrease was down to fewer full-time enrolments.

The total number of enrolments had previously increased year on year between 2011-12 and 2013-14, but had then slightly dropped between 2013-14 and 2014-15.

Overall, the figures show that the total number of HE enrolments across all UK HE providers rose by around 1 per cent between 2014-15 and 2015-16 to 2,280,830. “For the first time in several years, 2015-16 saw a small increase in HE student enrolments compared to 2014-15,” said the HESA report.

Universities minister Jo Johnson said the statistics were further evidence of a healthy and diverse HE system. “This government continues to make it possible for more students to attend higher education than ever before including more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds," he said.

Scotland bucks the downward trend

Scotland’s colleges, however, bucked the UK trend, with the number of enrolments on HE courses rising slightly between 2014-15 and 2015-16. While there were 48,715 enrolments in total in 2014-15, there were 49,890 the following year. Both part-time and full-time enrolments saw a year-on-year increase.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, Scotland’s minister for further, higher education and science, said she was delighted that the number of students in higher education was increasing. “Scotland has a world-class higher education system and one that will always be based on the principles of being free, fair and funded,” she said.

The minister added that the figures showed a “really positive picture for Scotland’s higher education system.”

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