Full-time undergraduate entrants eligible for tuition fee loans are forecast to grow 5.9% over the forecast period, from 406,000 in 2019/20 to 430,000 in 2025/26. This is largely driven by growth in the 18-year-old population in England from 2021, as well as increased participation rates expected as a result of Covid-19 and HE policy changes.
DfE’s higher education (HE) student entrants model forecasts the number of full-time undergraduate England-domiciled student entrants to UK providers and EU-domiciled student entrants to providers in England. These are all student entrants, whether eligible for a student loan or not. A subset of these student entrants is then forecast as the population eligible for tuition fee loans from Student Finance England (SFE).
The provider types included are specifically: English higher education institutions (HEIs) and designated Alternative Providers (APs) registered with the Office for Students (OfS) as an Approved (fee cap) provider; HEIs in the devolved administrations. These providers capture the vast majority of HE full-time undergraduate student entrants to Approved (fee cap) providers and eligible for maximum annual tuition fee loans of £9,250 – see the methodology document for more detail.
Since academic year 2017/18, nursing, midwifery and allied health profession (AHP) entrants have been eligible to apply for tuition fee loans. Fee loan-eligible entrants to these courses are forecast separately from the wider population as they are expected to grow at a higher rate, with specific Government policies aimed at increasing the uptake of these courses.
Figure 1 and Table 1a show the forecast number of student entrants, by domicile, against 2019/20 outturn, and Table 1b the equivalent annual growth rates, also against projected growth in the 18-year-old population in England.
Since the September 2020 publication, the forecasts have seen upward revisions to total student entrants. Outturn HESA data showed that in 2019/20 there were more England- and EU-domiciled student entrants than previously anticipated. The changes to A-Level exams in 2020 and subsequent removal of student number controls led to higher estimates of both England- and EU-domiciled student entrants in 2020/21. In the academic years following, both student and provider behavioural changes affecting England-domiciled student entrants are believed to increase the total number of entrants previously expected, with this outweighing decline in EU-domiciled student entrants.
There are a few key drivers of growth for England-domiciled student entrants (which are forecast to grow 9.8% from 2019/20 to 2025/26). First, projected growth in the 18-year-old population in England, which is estimated to be 12.8% over the same period. Second, increased participation rates among students (particularly of 18-year-olds) as a result of impacts of Covid-19 to the economy and labour market. Third, HE policy changes, such as the removal of student finance for EU nationals, which is expected to result in additional capacity for providers to increase offer rates to domestic (as well as non-EU overseas) students.
As highlighted, the removal of student finance for EU nationals is expected to result in a decline in EU-domiciled student entrants (-41.6% in 2021/22). The forecast is held constant from 2021/22 due to the uncertainty of how EU students will respond to this change over time. There will remain a small portion of EU-domiciled student entrants eligible for tuition fee loans, such as those eligible under Citizens’ Rights or as one of the specific eligible groups. However, this portion is estimated to be so small (around 6% of the 2020/21 total in 2021/22, diminishing each academic year following) that it has little impact on the growth in fee loan-eligible entrants. Further information on loan eligibility and for home fee status for the 2021/22 Academic Year is available at: New eligibility rules for home fee status and student finance for the 2021 to 2022 academic year (publishing.service.gov.uk).
Figure 2 and Table 2a present the forecast number of tuition fee loan-eligible entrants, by domicile and whether nursing, midwifery and AHP, and Table 2b the equivalent annual growth rates.
The factors discussed for student entrants have a knock-on impact to fee loan-eligible entrants. For those exclusive of nursing, midwifery and AHP entrants, however, from 2023/24 onwards, the removal of student finance for EU nationals outweighs the positive changes seen, as naturally the reductions in EU-domiciled fee loan-eligible entrants will be higher than for student entrants. As well as those impacts discussed, total fee loan-eligible entrants inclusive of nursing, midwifery and AHP have declined compared to the previous publication due to downward revisions to nursing, midwifery and AHP forecast entrants to better align to the population eligible for tuition fee loans from SFE.
Overall, full-time undergraduate fee loan-eligible entrants, inclusive of nursing, midwifery and AHP, are forecast to grow 5.9% between 2019/20 and 2025/26, with the majority of growth expected up to 2020/21. Although total student entrants are forecast to grow 4.0% in 2021/22, total fee loan eligible-entrants are forecast to decline 0.2% due to the vast majority of EU-domiciled student entrants being ineligible for student finance (resulting in a 93.6% reduction in EU-domiciled fee loan-eligible entrants, which outweighs the growth in other fee loan-eligible entrants). Thereafter, total growth in fee loan-eligible entrants is much closer to that of total student entrants because the reductions in EU-domiciled fee loan-eligible entrants are much less, both in relative and proportionate terms.
Nursing, midwifery and AHP fee loan-eligible entrants are forecast to grow from 25,000 in 2019/20 to 32,000 in 2025/26, this is at a much higher rate (28.8%) to other fee loan-eligible entrants (19.9% for England-domiciles and -97.1% for EU-domiciles, 4.4% overall). The forecast growth rate for nursing, midwifery and AHP aligns with that expected by Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC). While application trends are important for determining appetite to study, available clinical placements and DHSC policy intentions are the main drivers of growth in nursing, midwifery and AHP student entrant numbers.