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The student body in the UK has become younger and more diverse over the past decade while the number of part-time and mature participants has declined, a new report shows.
Trends and Patterns in UK Higher Education, published annually by Universities UK looks at the decade between 2004–05 and 2013/14, a period of considerable change and one which saw the introduction of £9,000 a year tuition fees.
Full-time first degree, postgraduate taught and postgraduate research student numbers have risen considerably since 2004-5, by 26.5 per cent, 39 per cent and 41 per cent respectively, according to the UUK study.
Full-time students made up nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the student body in 2013/14, compared to just over 60 per cent ten years earlier; and under-25s now make up three quarters of all undergraduates and a third of postgraduates.
The decline in the number of part-time students has continued, however. Part-time first degree entrants fell by 12 per cent over the whole period, with much of the decline in the last three years.
The report shows that higher fees seem not to have deterred poorer students, with 42 per cent more undergraduates from disadvantaged backgrounds on full-time degree programmes in 2014 than in 2005.
Over the decade, the number of non-EU international students has also risen from 9 per cent in 2004/5 to 13.5 per cent in 2013/14. In some subjects the proportion is even higher, with just under a quarter of those studying engineering in 2013/14 coming from outside the EU.
However, the report highlights shifting markets and the recent drop in the number of students coming from India.
“This fall and the growing number of international students going to competitor countries is fuelling concern about the UK’s ability to attract international students,” it said.
UUK paints a positive picture of students’ employment prospects, describing the “strong qualification and employment outcomes” for students as “one of the great successes of the period”.
Unemployment rates are lower for graduates than non-graduates and government research has found that female and male graduates can expect to boost their lifetime earnings by £250,000 and £165,000 respectively.
UUK also makes the case for more graduates. While the UK increased the proportion of highly skilled young adults from 32.6% of the population thirty years ago to 47.9%, the growth has been smaller than in many competitor countries.
“The proportion of young adults with higher education qualifications remains lower than in many competitor economies,” the report says. “For example, the Republic of Ireland has nearly doubled the proportion of young adults with tertiary education, from 24.9% to 49.2%, in the same period.”
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