A brief history of tuition fees and student enrollments in UK Higher Education

For this analysis we used data publicly available by HESA.

We are only going to focus on UK Higher Education Institution (HEI) student enrollments in this analysis. According to the collected data and the following graph, HE Institutions in the UK have in the year 2015-2016 272000 less students enrolled compared to the year 2009-2010. That is a 10,66% decrease in student numbers.

UK Enrollments (2009-2016)

Although we are only going to focus on what happened between the 2009-2016 period, it is worth having a look at how was the Higher Education system prior to the 2009-2016, as some decisions taken before may have influenced the number of student enrollments.

UK Higher Education system prior to 2009

Before September 1998 students enrolled in UK HEI did not pay tuition fees. In July 1997 the Dearing Report was published suggesting that University tuition fees should be introduced. In September 1998 students enrolled in UK Universities start paying GBP 1000 \ annum.

In 2004 and under the Higher Education Act 2004, tuition fees caps can be raised and Universities in the England can charge up to GBP3000 \ annum starting from the academic year 2006-2007. This measure is introduced in Northern Ireland the same year, while Welsh Universities raise their tuition fees in accordance to the HE Act in 2007-2008.


In 2009-2010, the year we have data for, the tuition fees are raised from GBP3000 to GBP3250 \ annum.

Following the Browne review the tuition fees cap was raised and in December 2010 it was announced that the tuition fees are going to be raised starting from September 2012 from GBP3250 to GBP9000\ annum.

If you see the graph, the academic year 2011-2012 enrollments across the UK are decreased slightly, followed by a 6,88% drop in student enrollments the following year. By September 2014, universities in the UK have almost 300k less students enrolled compared to its pick in the year 2010-2011. Student enrollments only bounce back up slightly for the year 2015-2016 (+0,65%).

But let’s see what happened so far in each of the UK constituent parts.


Student enrollment in Universities in England follow the same trend as seen in the UK student enrollments for the same period. That is not a surprise as Universities in England attract more than 80% of  University enrollments in the UK.

University Enrollments England (2009-2016)


On the other hand, while the UK has seen a general drop in University enrollments starting from 2010-2011, enrollments in Scottish Universities dropped slightly for only two years (2011-2012 and 2012-2013). Since 2013 enrollments in Scottish Universities have increased by almost 10%.

Scotland Enrollments (2009-2016)

You are probably wondering why. The answer is simple. Following devolution in 1999 the Government of Scotland brought its own Act on tuition fees. So when in England the tuition fees were raised in 2012-2013, the Scottish Government kept the the tuition fees for Scottish and EU students lower compared to tuition fees in England . Currently tuition fees in Scotland are GBP 1825 \ annum for a full time undergraduate degree and at GBP 3400 \ annum for a full time postgraduate degree. Students from RUK (England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) would currently have to pay between GBP6750 and GBP7400 \ annum to complete a undergraduate study in a Scottish University and GBP 3400\ annum for a postgraduate course. The tuition fees for 2017/2018 are going to remain the same for Scottish and students coming from the EU while the tuition fees for postgraduate students coming from England, Wales and Northern Ireland can be up to GBP 9000 \ annum.


Enrollments Wales (2009-2016)

Welsh Universities have seen a drop of more than 22% in student enrollments since their 2011-2012 pick. Although there is not a simple explanation why student enrollments in the UK fluctuate over the years, the decrease of students in Welsh Universities can be attributed to:

a) University mergers that took place between 2011 and 2013


b) The raise of the tuition fees, which for students coming from the UK and the EU are currently the same as in English Universities -GBP 9000\ annum- and they intent to stay the same for the year 2017-2018.

Northern Ireland

Student enrollments in Universities in NI follow the same trend as enrollments in Scottish Universities with an increase of 8.34% in student enrollments since 2009.

NI Enrollments (2009-2016)

One of the reasons that might explain the increase in enrollments is that the full time students from NI and the EU member countries pay GBP4030 \ annum for an undergraduate degree, while tuition fees for students from England, Wales and Scotland can be up to GBP 9000 per year. Again, as in Scotland, tuition fees in Wales are much lower for local and EU students respectively compared to the tuition fees in Universities in England.

The future

On the 23rd of June 2016  EU membership referendum took place across the UK and the result shows that the UK is going to leave the EU  with any impact that that might have for EU student enrollments in UK Universities. The latest UCAS analysis regarding applications for the March deadline show a decrease in applications from the UK (-4%) and from the EU (-6%) compared to the March 2016 deadline.

Tuition fees in England are going to be raised again starting from September 2017 at GBP 9250 per year.

Only recently and during the June 2017 General Election, Labour party announced their intention to scrap University tuition fees if they win the General Elections starting from September 2018.

The next 2 years are certainly going to be very challenging and intense for the Higher Education Institutions across the UK. We just need to wait and see.

Thank you very much! You ‘ve been fantastic and I hope you enjoyed it!



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