Source: Unsplash // Student enrolment has stayed the same as pre-pandemic years


Society is beginning to see the long-term effects of Covid-19 as the pandemic continues. One area that many predicted would be badly affected is university enrolment and student satisfaction.

However, a study by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) in 2020 found that, even at the height of the pandemic, student enrolment stayed the same as pre-pandemic years. 

As well as enrolment numbers, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) looked at continuation rates of students during the pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared that Covid had become a pandemic on the 11th of March 2020, roughly halfway through the 2019/2020 academic year. 

Enrolment throughout the pandemic 

One of the biggest adjustments that universities had to make during the pandemic was the decision to stop face-to-face teaching. Half of all students who completed the survey felt that moving to online-only learning would have a negative effect on their academic experience. Despite this, 81% of students reported that they would be likely or extremely likely to continue their course if teaching was moved to online-only in the new academic year. 

Surprisingly, student enrolment numbers rose by 8% in the 2019-2020 academic year, with first-year students increasingadmissions by 10%. 

However, it is difficult to extrapolate Covid-relevant information from the data, since the academic year started before the pandemic. Enrolment in 2019 would have commenced without knowledge of the pandemic to come.

First year HE enrolments by level of study

Academic year Postgraduate (research) Postgraduate (taught) First degree Other undergraduate
2011/12 34,775 282,425 552,235 247,895
2012/13 34,570 271,475 495,325 170,880
2013/14 36,285 281,860 522,080 155,625
2014/15 36,320 281,450 536,925 155,740
2015/16 35,975 282,060 557,065 143,850
2016/17 35,340 313,925 563,120 131,975
2017/18 36,090 332,330 571,540 124,150
2018/19 37,145 347,905 584,890 116,695
2019/20 33,910 384,030 611,390 110,350
2020/21 36,095 446,800 659,090 115,365


Despite initial fears that the pandemic would seriously affect students’ ability to work, the ONS found that 84% of students felt equipped to engage with online learning. Only 16% said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with this statement. 

However, on-campus culture was definitely something that took the brunt of the pandemic. The ONS found that 22% of students, nearly a quarter, felt that they wouldn’t return to student accommodation if online learning was continued into January.

Student satisfaction – 

Only half of the surveyed students reported that they were satisfied or very satisfied with their academic experience. First-year undergraduate students were more satisfied with their course than other undergraduate students, at 55% and 44% respectively. 

29% of students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their academic experience. Of this group, 2/3rds felt that this was because of how their course was taught, such as the quality of learning and the learning delivery. 

As expected, students’ social experience at university was massively impacted by the pandemic. Over half of the students reported being dissatisfied or very dissatisfied. The main reasons for this were:  limited opportunities for social or recreational activity (86%), limited opportunities to meet other students (84%), and limited access to sports and fitness facilities (52%).

Overall, although students may be dissatisfied with their university experience, the majority did not want to discontinue their studies. This could be due to a number of reasons, such as monetary, social, or academic, but, as the pandemic is still unfortunately ongoing, these reasons will likely have to wait for future studies.