UK Higher Education

Postgraduate students in the UK: key trends

As global job markets become increasingly competitive and demand for postgraduate study rises, we decided to take a close look at what traffic trends show us on (PGS), the UK’s leading website for prospective students seeking postgraduate study opportunities. For the purposes of our analysis, we looked at traffic between 1 May 2017 and 30 April 2018 compared to 1 May 2018 and 30 April 2019, considering only searches from within the UK. Here’s what we found.

Rising interest in postgraduate studies

Traffic trends on PGS indicate that postgraduate studies are becoming substantially more popular. Looking at prospective students based in the UK, there was an increase of over one million page views on PGS from 2017/18 to 2018/19 with the number of UK users across the two periods increasing by over 200,000 from 753,026 to 955,053. The below graph shows overall users, sessions and page views of users based in the UK and abroad. Overall the number of users increased from 1,448,832 to 2,057,880 with page views increasing from 6 million to over 8 million.

This rising trend may suggest that there is more awareness around the value and return of postgraduate qualifications, coupled with more funding available at Masters level. Reviews submitted by postgraduate students for the Whatuni Student Choice Awards 2019 also indicate that postgraduate students believe their studies will open more doors to increased job prospects.

Age groups & postgraduate studies

Looking at a selection of age groups between 2017/18 and 2018/19, it’s interesting to note that the number of 18-to-24-year olds researching postgraduate study options decreased by 7.08%, while the 25-to-35-year-old age group saw an increase of 3.75% and dominates searches with 37.91% of overall share. The 35-44 age group shows steady and robust searches with 19.53% of overall share, while searches by older age groups steadily decline. Notably the age groups from 45 upwards have all seen slight increases between 2017/18 and 2018/19.

Where users are searching from

Claiming over 50% of UK-based PGS users, London has the largest number of users researching postgraduate opportunities. Over the two periods, London has seen a slight drop in users from 55.28% to 53.51%.

Glasgow and Birmingham produce the next highest number of users interested in postgraduate studies, followed by Manchester, Leeds and Edinburgh. Oxford and Cambridge show surprisingly low levels of searches for postgraduate studies, making up less than 1.5% of overall share. This may indicate that graduates are more likely to start their research for postgraduate studies once they’ve graduated, moved away from their UG university and entered the job market.

Study Mode

Interest in full time versus part time postgraduate studies is closely matched with full-time exceeding part-time by just under 10% of searches. Searches for both full-time and part-time studies remained almost the same across the two time periods. Collectively, distance-and-online learning comes in as the third most searched study mode with 28.51% of overall searches in 2018/19 (a slight increase from 2017/18).

The prevelance of part-time and distance learning reflects the types of students researching study options, suggesting that prospective students are more likely to have external responsibilities such as family and job commitments.

Subject searches

Health and medicine is by far the most popular subject area searched on PGS, claiming 38.45% of overall searches (down slightly from 2017/18). Education comes in as the second most popular subject choice at 9.65% (also slightly down from 2017/18), followed by social studies and media; business, management and marketing; creative arts and design, and applied and pure sciences.

Qualification levels

The majority of users conducting their research on PGS are interested in pursuing a Masters qualification at 35.76% of overall searches (down by 2.68% compared to 2017/18).  Trailing far behind as the second most popular qualification is a Master of Science (MSc), which saw an increase in popularity from 14.56% to 16.88%. The next most popular search is for PGCE followed by PhD and doctorate qualifications.

Key takeaways:

– Postgraduate studies are becoming more popular (especially by prospective students based in London) with over 200,000 more UK visitors year-on-year.

– Searches are dominated by users in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties.

– Full-time, part-time and online/distance modes of study are all popular choices with full-time leading the charge.

– Health and medicine as a subject area dominates at 38.45% of overall searches.

– Masters is the most popular qualification level with 35.76% of overall searches.

If you’d like to feature your institution’s postgraduate courses on, get in touch with our client partnership team on

Enjoyed this article? Also read our article on What students really think about unconditional offers (survey based).

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