The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has published a major new piece of research looking at future demand for higher education places in England over the next decade.

The report, Demand for Higher Education to 2030, by Bahram Bekhradnia and Dr Diana Beech builds on HEPI’s long history of exploring demand for higher education but comes seven years after the last report on this topic.

The report examines the impact of major policy changes, demography and entry standards on participation rates. It shows:

  • the number of 18-year-olds in England is set to rise by 23 per cent by 2030;
  • if demography were the only factor, without any increase in participation, there would be an increase in demand of 50,000 full-time higher education places by 2030;
  • if participation also increases in the next dozen years or so at the same rate as the average of the last 15 years, then we can expect an increase in demand of 350,000 full-time higher education places by 2030;
  • countervailing factors that could reduce demand include Brexit, which is expected to reduce the number of places needed by around 56,000;
  • so the most likely outcome by the end of the next decade is a net increase in demand for full-time student places of around 300,000; and
  • demand for higher education places would be increased further if males were to match the participation of females during this time – although we do not predict that this will happen in the foreseeable future, if it were to do so then the extra demand could total over half a million new places.

In 2016/17, there were about 1.2 million full-time first-degree students in England, so demand for almost a third of a million additional places is equivalent to growth of around 25 per cent.

Bahram Bekhradnia, HEPI President and one of the authors of the report, said:

Given the fact that each new student recruited (with few exceptions) represents increased demand for government-subsidised student loans, it is difficult to see – under the current finance model – how the policy of uncapped student recruitment can continue.

This is particularly pertinent given the constraints on public expenditure and the absence of any suggestion from the Treasury that more money will be available for higher education in the future.

Our analysis sets a challenge for the review committee of post-18 education, given the widespread concerns about mounting levels of student debt and the wish to ease the burden on tomorrow’s graduates.

Diana Beech, HEPI Director of Policy and Advocacy and co-author of the report, said:

Demand for higher education will continue growing fast over the coming decade as the number of qualified young people increases. At a time of unprecedented uncertainty, this is a good news story for universities.

But the scale of transformation that will be needed is substantial. Delivering 300,000 extra student places in a short period of time without reducing quality is a big ask. If existing universities are to reap the benefits, they will need to adapt.

Moreover, if we want to fix big social inequalities, like the gender gap in access to higher education, we will need to offer even more extra places – up to half a million in total.

Notes for editors:

  1. The analysis in this report is based on data specifically commissioned from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), as well as data already in the public domain.
  2. The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) was established in 2002 to influence the higher education debate with evidence. We are UK-wide, independent and non-partisan. We are funded by organisations and universities that wish to see a vibrant higher education debate, as well as through our own events. HEPI is a company limited by guarantee and a registered charity.
  3. The research builds on earlier work conducted by HEPI on demand for higher education – the last comprehensive report was published in February 2011 and looked at Higher Education Supply and Demand to 2020.