Login to Members Area

New data shows Alternative Providers fulfil a vital role in widening participation

15 June 2016

“Experimental Statistics” released by HESA today show that students studying at Alternative Providers are more likely to be from BME groups than those studying at traditional universities, with 34% of the students surveyed by HESA in the 2014/15 cohort identifying as Black and 19% as Asian. This is compared to only 10% of students identifying as Black, and 10% as Asian, in publicly funded HE providers. Of the students included in HESA's sample, 88% were from the UK.

Students at Alternative Providers are also more likely to be mature, with 43% of full-time students aged 30 or over at the point of entry, compared to only 6% at publicly funded providers.

The Government’s recent HE White Paper, 'Success as a Knowledge Economy: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice', has expressed concern that Widening Participation efforts are failing young men. The HESA data shows that 52% of students surveyed at Alternative Providers were men, while 48% were women. The opposite is true when looking at the statistics for publicly funded HE.

The report shows that almost half of students (45%) studied HND/HNC courses, reflecting the more flexible model of delivery found in independent colleges, which supports entry to higher education for students who are without the qualifications required by traditional universities.

The HESA data also suggests that Alternative Providers play an important role in supporting students into STEM subjects, with 8% of all students surveyed enrolled in Science subject areas, and 56% of those studying at foundation or HND/HNC level as a pathway to a degree.

The majority of students surveyed by HESA (54%) were following Business-related courses, reflecting the type of courses which receive designation for student finance and so are included in the sample. Creative art/design and law courses were the next most popular student choices. 

Over 10,000 students received qualifications from Alternative Providers in 2014/15, including 40% at degree level. As this is the first significant data release on Alternative Providers from HESA it is not possible to view these figures in the broader context of students enrolled across several cohorts. The data does tell us that of the 50,245 students in the sample, 22,000 were enrolling for their first year of study. We look forward to further data that will help to improve understanding of the interplay of key issues such as student retention, demographics and mode of study at Alternative Providers. 

Study UK Chief Executive Alex Proudfoot said:

“We welcome this confirmation from the first official data of the important role that independent higher education plays in widening participation. Independent colleges offer flexible entry and start dates which fit around a student’s circumstances, making them a popular choice for the demographic of student that we see universities struggle to recruit.

“The data shows that independent colleges play a vital role in supporting students into degree-level study, particularly for those returning to study or those who in a given year were unsuccessful in achieving the A level results needed for their higher education course. It is important that the Government protects and enhances the flexibility of independent colleges, in both their entry points and course delivery, to ensure that they continue to be this positive force for social mobility.

“While this data represents only a small proportion of the independent sector, we are confident that the Government’s proposed reforms will give us a far broader picture in the years to come.”

The HESA data report shows the student demographic for 63 Alternative Providers. This is a sample of only large Alternative Providers where students can use government loans to pay tuition. From 2015/16, the number of Alternative Providers submitting data to HESA will increase to just under 100, and give a far better picture of the student population.



  1. About Study UK
    Study UK is a membership association and the national representative body for independent providers of higher education, further education and professional training, with over 130 quality-assured institutions in membership. The representative body for a sector that covers university-validated higher education, industry-specialist vocational education, university foundation courses and study abroad programmes, Study UK works with a wide range of partners and stakeholders worldwide to represent the interests of the sector and its members.
  2. The HESA Report 'Appreciating Alternative Providers' can be found here - https://www.hesa.ac.uk/blog/3973-appreciating-alternative-providers
  3. The 2014/15 Alternative Provider (AP) record consisted of 63 APs but provision of HE by APs in England is much wider than this. The BIS report 'Understanding the Market of Alternative Higher Education Providers and their Students in 2014' states that there were 732 APs offering course provision in the UK in spring 2014.
  4. For further information or interviews, please contact Joy Elliott-Bowman, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Study UK, on 020 7608 8453 or at joy.elliott-bowman@study-uk.org.

Keep up-to-date by subscribing to our Study UK News RSS feed or email notifications. By subscribing you will receive a notification in your web browser or RSS reader when a new entry is posted here. Find out more about RSS feeds.

Study UK news & events