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The UK universities with the most students over 50

Last updated 8th March 2023

8 min read

It's never too late to go back to school and expand your education. Whether it's a change of career, a desire to explore a new-found interest, or returning after some time away, enrolling in university can be a rewarding experience no matter your age or circumstance.

To celebrate this, and to find out more about education trends among mature students, we asked 134 universities across the UK to tell us how many students aged over 50 they have enrolled across their courses.

Here are the results for the academic year 2022/23:

Top 10 most popular universities for students over 50

# University Total Students Over 50 (%)
1Birbeck, University of London10.7%
2University of Cumbria7.5%
3Harper Adams University7.2%
4Buckinghamshire New University6.7%
5University of West London5.3%
6University of Central Lancashire4.9%
7Anglia Ruskin University4.8%
8University of Sunderland4.2%
9University of Derby4.1%
-University of Worcester4.1%
We sent an FOI to over 130 UK universities to find out which schools have the most students over 50 years old. Data correct as of academic year 2022/23 | SunLife

Birbeck, University of London

Set in the heart of Bloomsbury, Birkbeck, University of London (formally Birkbeck College) is a leading research university, and one of the few in the UK that specialises in evening higher education.

The university offers over 200 undergraduate and postgraduate courses, with the option to study part or full-time. So, it's no surprise that it tops our list of most popular schools for students aged 50 and above.

Our research shows that out of the 10,867 students currently enrolled at Birkbeck, 1,159 of them are over 50 – with the most popular course being the MA in Creative Writing.

University of Cumbria

In second place is the University of Cumbria, with 7.5% of its 11,569 students aged 50 and above. This public university holds its headquarters in Carlisle, and has further campuses in Lancaster, Ambleside and London.

The Ambleside campus stands out from the crowd with its grounds nestled inside a Lake District UNESCO World Heritage site. Its London campus offers students a taste of the city life, just moments away from Canary Wharf.

However, the most popular course among the University of Cumbria’s over-50 students – BSc (Hons) Paramedic: Practice Development – is taught through distance learning.

Harper Adams University

Founded in 1901 as a college, Harper Adams University is a leading specialist school tackling the future development of our planet’s food production, animal sciences, sustainability and more.

With everything from molecular diagnostics laboratories to processing facilities on site, students can test their theories on the campus’s 494-hectare farm.

Harper Adams University is a popular choice among mature students in the UK, with 7.2% of its current students aged 50 and above. The most popular course is in AMTRA SQP (Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority).

This short course is taught in four modules and enables animal medicine advisors to prescribe and supply animal medicines according to the UK’s legal requirements.

Top 10 universities with the most students over 50

# University Total Students Over 50
1Anglia Ruskin University1,590
2University of Central Lancashire1,441
3University of Sunderland1,369
4University of Edinburgh1,243
5Birbeck, University of London1,159
6University of London1,138
7King's College London1,118
8Northumbria University987
9Coventry University906
10University of Cumbria873
We sent an FOI to over 130 UK universities to find out which schools have the most students over 50 years old. Data correct as of academic year 2022/23 | SunLife

As well as looking at which universities have the highest percentage of students over 50, we also broke down these figures by overall count.

Where Birkbeck, University of London came first on our list of percentage students over 50, Anglia Ruskin University now dominates the rankings. Of the 33,327 students currently studying, 1,590 are aged 50 and above (4.8%).

The University of Central Lancashire takes second place with 1,441 students over 50 (4.9%), followed closely by the University of Sunderland with 1,369 (4.2%).

The University of Edinburgh (currently ranking fourth) also has 97 students over 70 years old – more than any other university by a long run. King’s College London follows with 37 students over 70.

Top 20 most popular university courses for students over 50

# University Course Total Students Over 50
1Anglia Ruskin UniversityBSc (Hons) Health and Social Care263
2King's College LondonMSc Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health184
3Harper Adams UniversityAnimal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority162
4Queen Mary University of LondonHumanities and Social Sciences130
5Anglia Ruskin UniversityBSc (Hons) International Business Management125
6University of CumbriaBSc (Hons) Paramedic: Practice Development110
7Cardiff UniversityMSc Clinical Optometry98
8King's College LondonMSc Applied Neuroscience96
-University of LondonBSc Computer Science96
10Anglia Ruskin UniversityBSc (Hons) Nursing - Mental Health93
11University of CumbriaBSc (Hons) Paramedic Science85
12University of LeedsPhD Doctor of Philosophy83
13University of Central LancashireBSc (Hons) Astronomy80
14Leeds Beckett UniversityPhD Doctor of Philosophy78
15University of EssexBSc Nursing - Mental Health74
16Anglia Ruskin UniversityBSc (Hons) Adult Nursing69
17University College LondonPhilosophy MPhil/PhD58
18University of Central LancashireBSc (Hons) Nursing with Registered Nurse - Adult53
-University of PortsmouthBA (Hons) Illustration53
20Anglia Ruskin UniversityBSc (Hons) Business and Healthcare Management51
We sent an FOI to over 130 UK universities to find out which schools have the most students over 50 years old, and what courses they are studying. Data correct as of academic year 2022/23 | SunLife

When looking at the courses chosen by students over 50, the range of subjects is huge. From the universities that we spoke to, we received a list of over 4,800 courses that over 50s are enrolled in.

The most popular course for students over 50 in the UK is the BSc (Hons) Health and Social Care at Anglia Ruskin University, with 263 students.

In second place is MSc Psychology and Neuroscience of Mental Health at King's College London, with 184 students, followed by Animal Medicines Training Regulatory Authority at Harper Adams University, with 162.

Our research shows that students over 50 are not only studying across the subjects, but also across degree levels – with a mix of undergraduate and postgraduate courses seen in the most popular list.

Which UK regions have the most students over 50?

# Region Total Students Over 50 (%)
2West Midlands2.47%
5Greater London2.24%
6South East2.14%
7North West2.07%
8North East2.02%
9Northern Ireland1.96%
10Yorkshire and the Humber1.83%
11East Midlands1.63%
12South West1.48%
We sent an FOI to over 130 UK universities to find out which regions have the most students over 50 years old. Data correct as of academic year 2022/23 | SunLife

Choosing where to study is one of the most important parts of going to university, especially as a mature student. At times, this may be influenced by practicality, whereas some students have more flexibility to attend their dream school. However, many courses today also allow students the option of distance learning.

Our research found that the East of England has a higher percentage of students over 50 than anywhere else in the UK. Out of the 126,240 students currently enrolled at a university in the East, 3,146 (2.49%) of them are aged 50 and above.

Greater London ranks fifth on our list, with 2.24% of its students aged over 50. And the region with the lowest percentage of over 50 students (1.48%) is the South West.

5 tips for university as a student over 50

If you’re thinking about signing up to university as a student over 50, here are our recommendations for helping you get on track.

  1. Share your experience
  2. It's important to remember that you’re not alone on this journey, and you’ve earned your place on the course. As well as friends and family, try speaking one-on-one with your lecturers to share your situation. Discuss why you have made the choice to study, and what you’re most excited about learning on the course.

    A huge part of the university experience is being able to share your thoughts and challenges, and it's likely that whatever emotions you’re feeling will resonate with your peers.

  3. Create a dedicated study space
  4. You don’t need to have a home office to be a successful mature student. Choose a quiet area in your home, whether that’s the kitchen table or your bedroom vanity, and set up a dedicated study space.

    Not only will this help you to get into the zone, but it will also allow you to differentiate between study and free time by separating the two. This is also beneficial if you have children, as you can create house rules that prevent you from being disturbed when you’re in your study space.

  5. Get organised
  6. If you’re joining university as a mature student, it's likely that you have a job, care responsibilities or other daily demands on your time. Whereas these things may not affect the typical student, it does mean your drive to succeed is likely higher.

    Use your life experience to help you balance your time and create a schedule that works for you. Have a simple filing system to store your lecture notes and handouts. If it’s complicated, you won’t use it.

  7. Plan your workload
  8. Planning ahead can help alleviate stress as you embark on your journey as a mature student. At the start of the semester, write down any significant events on a calendar, whether that be family occasions or meetings at work.

    Then, in a different colour, write down your course deadlines – ideally note them down a few days before their actual date to allow for any setbacks. Refer to your calendar on a weekly, if not daily basis.

  9. Make the most out of lectures
  10. The majority of university teachings take place in lectures and seminars full of students, so it’s important to know how to make the most of that time.

    1. Before your lecture, think about what you know about the topic, and anything you're hoping to learn. You can prepare for a lecture by reading up on it, and identifying questions you may want to ask in class.
    2. During your lecture, it can be tempting to write down everything your teacher says – however, this can prevent you from listening properly. Instead, leave your pen on the desk and only pick it up to write down what you find most interesting or important. Usually, the presentation will be shared with you afterwards.
    3. After your lecture, take time to think about what you’ve learnt and write a short paragraph of the main points from memory. This process will allow you to digest this new information and identify the areas where you need further reading. Don’t worry if you get stuck – you can ask your subject tutor to further explain. Remember, this is higher education and it will be difficult at times – but you’re bound to succeed if you put your mind to it.


A Freedom of Information request was sent to 134 universities across the UK, of which 96 universities replied within the 20-working-day grace period. 14 of these universities withheld information.

Universities with five or fewer students over 50 studying were categorised externally as ‘5’ due to data restrictions. Courses with five or fewer students over 50 were categorised the same way.

The thoughts and opinions expressed in the page are those of the authors, intended to be informative, and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SunLife. See our Terms of Use for more info.