Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)
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Postgraduate and undergraduate student numbers at record highs

The number of students studying postgraduate courses in England has increased substantially in 2016-17, following the introduction of postgraduate masters loans.

90,600 students started full-time taught postgraduate courses at English higher education providers in 2016-17. This is an increase of 22 per cent on the previous year.  

There was also an increase in part-time students starting taught postgraduate courses. Their numbers increased by 9 per cent to 74,900 in 2016-17.

Overall, 165,500 students started postgraduate courses in 2016-17. The increase in postgraduate student numbers follows the introduction of the postgraduate masters loan scheme in June 2016. This enables students under the age of 60 who are studying for master’s degrees to borrow up to £10,000 as a contribution towards the costs of study.  

Surveys of final-year undergraduates have previously shown that financial barriers were a significant deterrent to many students who would have liked to study for a postgraduate qualification. The latest data suggests that the introduction of loans has helped to address this barrier.

The data shows large increases in postgraduate student numbers across the higher education sector, although it will not be known for another year whether the loans have increased entry to postgraduate courses for all groups of students.

The number of students starting full-time undergraduate courses also increased, going up by 1.0 per cent to 408,000. This is the highest number on record, and represents the second successive year in which numbers have exceeded those who entered before the rise in undergraduate tuition fees in 2011-12.

HEFCE Chief Executive Madeleine Atkins said:

‘Undertaking postgraduate study can be hugely beneficial to the life chances of individuals as the attainment of specialised, high-level knowledge and skills increases employment opportunities. It is also critical to enhance the nation’s productivity and competitiveness.

‘However, we know that access to finance has been a barrier that has put postgraduate study out of reach for some students, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds being affected worst. This latest data is an encouraging indicator that the postgraduate loan scheme has improved access to postgraduate study.’


  1. The data has been released by HEFCE as part of an update to its ‘Higher Education in England: Key facts’ publication.
  2. Further details on the postgraduate masters loan scheme.


Channel website: http://www.hefce.ac.uk

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