The number of older people enrolling in colleges has also contributed to the rise in overall numbers, with an 11 per cent rise in those aged 60 and above returning to learning.
The trend reflects colleges' attempts to seek out new student markets among adults in order to hit government-set recruitment targets amid tough competition with schools for sixth-form age students.
Further education students were this year studying for 3.6 million qualifications, a fifth of them A-levels. Second most popular were GCSEs, followed by the government's National Vocational Qualifications, which test competence in particular trades and skills.
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