FTE means two things in higher education:
When talking about employees,
FTE means “full-time equivalency” for the purposes of a work year. FTE is primarily used when talking about staffing and hiring. For example, if you need 1 FTE that means you need the equivalent of one full-time position. (That might be two people, each working half a year.) Or, a given IT service might need 1.3 DBAs and 0.7 systems administrators.
You can multiply the FTE by the number of working hours per year to find how many hours per year you’re talking about. For example, if your institution works 40 hours a week the work year is 2000 hours. 0.7 systems administrators would be 1400 working hours a year.
When estimating FTE needed, make sure to account for overhead: staff meetings, vacation, etc.
When talking about students,
FTE means “full-time equivalency” for the purposes of full-time enrolled students. If an institution has 10,000 (student) FTE it may have 8,000 full-time students and 4,000 half-time students.
In the States, IPEDS has the authoritative definition of FTE students.