Third HESA Release: Alternative Providers Continue to Attract Non-Traditional Students

On Thursday 15 February, HESA released the third Statistical First Release: Higher Education Statistics: Alternative Providers, covering the 2016/17 student record. The data shows that independent higher education providers continue to attract high numbers of mature students (40%) and BME students (54%), with overall student characteristics remaining similar to the 2015/16 release. This release also included postgraduate students for the first time, although only those studying at a limited number of providers.

Like the previous two releases, this data remains ‘experimental’ as providers are still moving in and out of the data set, and the requirements for submission have changed again. New in the 2016/17 record include postgraduate students, studying on designated postgraduate courses, at providers with Degree Awarding Powers. Other postgraduate students are not included yet but we expect this to expand in future data sets (postgraduate initial teacher training (ITT) remain included as in the 2015/16 record).

For the 2016/17 record we welcome IHE Members, Ballet West, as the only independent higher education provider from Scotland to submit data to HESA. A number of providers from the 2015/16 record did not submit to the 2016/17 record due to de-designation, or in the case of the Open College of the Arts, due to a merger with a publicly funded institution.

The changes to providers returning data make understanding some of the overall narratives difficult. The data shows an overall decline in numbers of students returned (2%) with a notable continued decline in HNC/HND numbers. The continued moratorium on HNC/HND courses could mean more providers are forced to limit the options for students or turn to franchise opportunities at Levels 4 and 5 to meet demand. Franchise students are not returned in the HESA Alternative Provider student record.

The data also shows a drop in part-time undergraduate students of 18%, a loss of 1240 students from 2015/16. However the merger of the Open College of the Arts with the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) removed 1145 part-time students from the data set between the two submissions, making this figure more attributed to the experimental nature of the data than any real narrative about part-time students.

New to this year’s publicly released data is more information on both postgraduate and international students. 6805 postgraduate students were returned this year from just six independent providers with degree awarding powers, with over 3900 from just one institution (University of Law). This limited data shows a somewhat different student profile from the undergraduate students submitted over the past three years. Almost half of PG students at these six providers are under 24 on entry and just over half identify as white.

For the first time we got a tiny peek into the collected data on the 5% EU and 9% non-EU students in the return. Students from Italy make up the largest nationality (580 students) amongst international students with students from China the second largest (495 students). No other nationality had large enough numbers to publish.

Despite the changes to the data collected, and the providers it is collected from, the student profile at independent providers continues to show their commitment to expanding access for under-represented groups. It is likely that the number of providers, and the data collected will continue to change as we move towards the Office for Students. For now, the HESA return remains the most significant data snapshot we have of students at independent providers of higher education.


  1. About Independent Higher Education
    Independent Higher Education is the UK membership organisation and national representative body for independent providers of higher education, professional training and pathways.
  2. The HESA Report “Statistical First Release: Higher Education Statistics: Alternative Providers” can be found here –
  3. The 2016/17 Alternative Provider (AP) record includes 96 APs offering designated undergraduate and designated postgraduate (only those with Degree Awarding Powers) courses in England.
  4. For further information or interviews, please contact Joy Elliott-Bowman, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Independent Higher Education, on 020 7608 8453 or at
  • On 19th February 2018