Our analysis of business student enrolments: HESA 2017/18 data under the spotlight

Our analysis of the new 2017/18 HESA student enrolment dataset reveals the latest trends in enrolments for Business & Administrative Studies courses. This briefing presents our findings across domicile and level of study (undergraduate and postgraduate courses)[1].


Enrolments to Business & Administrative Studies courses from UK/EU students have grown in the last two years but remain below the levels seen before the introduction of £9,000 tuition fees.

Enrolments of students from non-EU countries have increased for the first time in four years, reversing the downtrend that began after the changes to student visa regulations. This is a promising development but at least another year of growth is needed to confirm a sustained upward trend. It remains the case that nearly one-third of all students enrolled on Business & Administrative Studies courses are from non-EU countries.

The impact of Brexit on student numbers from EU countries is unclear: enrolments at undergraduate level have increased (+6%) whilst enrolments at postgraduate level have decreased (-3%). As undergraduates account for a larger share of enrolments, overall student numbers from EU countries are up by 3% year-on-year. The most striking finding in relation to EU students is that enrolments at postgraduate level have fallen by 14% since 2011/12.

The uptrend in enrolments of UK students that began in 2015/16 has continued but the total in 2017/18 is still below the level of 2011/12. In 2017/18 the increase in UK enrolments was largely driven by undergraduate students but there were also increases in postgraduates.

Business & Administrative Studies retains its status as being the most popular subject at UK universities. It is still the case that 1 in 7 undergraduate students are enrolled on a business or management course (14%), increasing to 1 in 5 for postgraduate students (18%). Around 1 in 3 of all non-EU international students are enrolled on a business or management course.

Total enrolments in Business & Administrative Studies

  • Total enrolments for all Business & Administrative Studies courses increased by 3% in 2017/18, the second consecutive annual increase. This is above the 1% increase in enrolments seen for all subjects. The total enrolments of 342,970 is the highest recorded since 2011/12 when the total was 363,860.
  • The period after 2011/12 witnessed a three year decline, and despite the recovery of the last two years, enrolments in 2017/18 are still 6% lower than in 2011/12.

All Business & Administrative Studies enrolments by domicile

  • Enrolments of non-EU students to Business & Administrative Studies courses increased by 5% to 99,700. This is the first annual increase since 2013/14 and reverses a trend of falling enrolments that started in 2014/15.
  • Overall enrolments of students from EU countries appear unaffected by Brexit, with the total of 27,260 representing the third consecutive annual increase and the highest since 2011/12. However, as explained later in this briefing, the outlook varies by level of study.
  • Enrolments of UK students exhibit a similar uptrend since 2014/15, with the total of 216,010 being 2% higher than in 2016/17 but still 7% lower than the 233,355 recorded in 2011/12.
  • The proportion of UK students has decreased from 64% to 63% of enrolments and the share of enrolments from non-EU and EU students are unchanged at 29% and 8%, respectively.

Undergraduate enrolments in Business & Administrative Studies

  • Undergraduate enrolments within the Business & Administrative Studies field increased by 2% from 235,325 in 2016/17 to 240,040 in 2017/18. This is slightly above the 1% increase in undergraduate enrolments observed for courses across all subject areas.
  • This is the third annual increase in a row but total enrolments are still down by 4% compared to the 249,955 seen in 2011/12.

Undergraduate enrolments by domicile

  • The overall increase in Business & Administrative Studies enrolments at undergraduate level is largely driven by UK students, with the total increasing from 172,675 in 2016/17 to 176,255 (+2%). This represents the third consecutive annual increase but enrolments remain 6% below the 2011/12 level.
  • Enrolments of non-EU students on undergraduate courses were largely unchanged in 2017/18 at 44,835 but are below the peak of 47,520 recorded in 2013/14.
  • The number of undergraduate enrolments from EU countries in 2017/18 of 18,950 exceeds the total of 18,450 seen in 2011/12 despite the backdrop of Brexit. EU enrolments increased by 6% in the last year and have grown in each year since 2015/16.
  • The proportions of undergraduates from each domicile are unchanged with UK students constituting 73% of enrolments, followed by non-EU students (19%) and EU students (8%).

Postgraduate enrolments in Business & Administrative Studies

  • In 2017/18 total postgraduate enrolments for Business & Administrative Studies courses reversed a three year decline, growing from 97,970 to 102,930, an increase of 5%. This is slightly above the increase of 3% observed for postgraduate courses across all fields.
  • Despite this reversal, postgraduate enrolments are 10% below the peak of 113,910 in 2011/12, when Business & Administrative Studies programmes accounted for 20% of postgraduate enrolments across all subjects, compared to 18% in the most recent year.

Postgraduate enrolments by domicile

  • The rise in postgraduate enrolments on Business & Administrative Studies courses since 2016/17 is wholly driven by non-EU students, which increased by 9% to 54,865. This is the first time it has increased since 2013/14 and remains 7% below the peak of 59,170 in 2011/12.
  • Postgraduate enrolments from EU countries fell by 3% in the last year to 8,310 and are 14% below the 9,650 recorded in 2011/12. Enrolments at postgraduate level from UK students increased slightly in the last year (+2%), the second annual increase in a row, but are 12% lower than six years ago.
  • The increase in postgraduate enrolments from non-EU students in the last year means that students from this domicile now account for 53% of all postgraduates in Business & Administrative Studies courses, up from 51% in 2016/17.
  • Conversely, the share of postgraduate enrolments from EU countries has fallen from 9% to 8% and the share of enrolments from the UK has fallen from 40% to 39%.

This analysis and data is presented in tables for download here.


[1] Higher Education Statistics Agency, ‘Table 22 - HE student enrolments by subject of study and domicile 2014/15 to 2017/18’, published January 2019 https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/students/what-study