HESA Spring 2022: Staff data, part one

A very stark message from the top line staff data from the 2020-21 academic year.

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

It’s getting busier.

You don’t really need me to know this, but as someone who works in a university you are pretty much flat out all the time. This week’s HESA data release gives us the reason: growth in student numbers has not been matched by growth in staff numbers.

While full time student numbers (at all levels of study) have grown from 1.8m in 2018-19 to 2.1m in 2020-21, the number of full time academic staff with responsibility for teaching (on a teaching only or teaching and research contract) has remained stable – 100k in 2018-19 and 106k in 2020-21.


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Recent growth in student numbers is often attributed to the pandemic – but it also shows the starting point of an oncoming demographic peak that will (unless something very misguided happens) greatly increase demand for university places. Providers may have opted not to expand staff numbers during a period of uncertainty – but unless the quality of the student experience drops workforce expansion is very much a question of when and not if.

Steady state

The academic workforce, by dint of this failure to grow, is getting older. The number of staff on academic contracts dropped held by those aged 26 and 35 between 2019-20 (57.5k) and 2020-21 (56.9k) – while the number aged between 36 and 45 grew (62.2k to 63.9k). However, at the other end of the career, there was also a slight fall in the number aged over 66.

We have not seen, as was widely predicted, any significant changes in the number of EU domiciled academic staff – though the trend is very marginally downwards. A growth in international, non-EU, staff also conceals a very slight drop in the number of UK academic staff.

On ethnicity – though we don’t yet get the full details – very little has changed in the dismal level of diversity among senior academic staff. There are just 160 Black professors in the UK academic workforce, and just 60 on other types of senior academic contract.

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A full release of staff data from HESA will be available on 24 February. If you’re wondering if that is when we will get to look at non-academic staff you will be disappointed – returning non-academic staff data is now optional in England, making the dataset far less comprehensive.

Update: A few people have asked for a visualisation of the zero hours data.

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