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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

1.   We are changing the source of the data we will use for calculating two elements of quality-related research (QR) funding from 2012-13. This will minimise duplication in data collection and thereby reduce burden on higher education institutions (HEIs). We do not require a response.

2.   This circular letter:

  • Confirms a decision taken by the HEFCE Board in May 2010 that we should use data collected by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), rather than through our annual Research Activity Survey (RAS), to inform the allocation of QR charity support funding and QR research degree programme (RDP) supervision funding, in order to reduce burden on universities and colleges.
  • Reports the outcome of work undertaken to assure ourselves and institutions of the robustness of the HESA data to inform these funding allocations.
  • Confirms that we will use HESA data to inform these two allocations from 2012-13 and will therefore no longer collect data through the RAS.
  • Reports (in Annex A) changes to the algorithms we will use in calculating RDP supervision funding from 2012-13, following a recent data verification exercise.


3.   Each year we have undertaken a Research Activity Survey to collect data from HEIs on:

  • eligible income from research grants and contracts awarded by charities
  • eligible postgraduate research (PGR) student numbers.

These data inform our allocations of two non-mainstream elements of QR funding: the charity support element and the RDP supervision fund. The QR business research element has always been calculated using data collected by HESA.

4.   As a signatory to the Higher Education Concordat, issued in 2006 by the Higher Education Regulation Review Group, HEFCE committed to the principle that higher education providers should benefit from reduced bureaucracy. In pursuit of this aim, we have been trying for several years to reduce and ultimately eliminate duplicate demands on universities and colleges for substantially the same data; and to increase where possible our use of data collected by HESA to inform our funding allocations.

5.   Our Board agreed last May that we should use data that are collected by HESA to calculate these two elements of non-mainstream QR as soon as practicably possible, preferably from 2012-13, subject to assuring ourselves of the robustness of the data and resolving significant funding perturbations.

6.   In preparation for being able to use HESA data to inform these allocations, we have been working for a number of years to align data definitions between HESA and the RAS: the two sets of definitions have as a result been closely aligned for this purpose from the 2009-10 HESA record onwards. Since last May, we have completed a programme of work to assure ourselves and institutions that the HESA data, and how we propose to use them, would be robust for determining funding allocations.

Data on eligible research income from charities

7.   As part of our work on assessing the robustness of data on research income to HEIs from charities, we conducted a data reconciliation exercise comparing 2009-10 income data returned to the RAS and to the HESA finance statistics return (FSR). We asked 33 HEIs to explain discrepancies in their data between the two returns. The results of this data reconciliation exercise assured us that the HESA data are sufficiently reliable to use in funding: although several data adjustments were needed, the size and distribution of those data changes were similar across the two data sources.

8.   Therefore, from 2012-13, we will use eligible research income from charities reported to the HESA FSR to calculate allocations of QR charity support funding. We intend to use an average of two years' worth of eligible data to inform the allocations (so, for 2012-13, we intend to use the average of 2009-10 and 2010-11 HESA data). Institutions should note that the change in data collection – from using RAS data relating to departments (units of assessment) represented in HEIs' 2008 RAE submissions, to using income data relating to HESA cost centres – will result in the inclusion of a small proportion of charities income data (approximately 2 per cent) that is currently omitted from our calculations.

Data on postgraduate research student numbers

9.   We have undertaken work to assess whether data from the HESA student record on postgraduate research student full-time equivalent (FTE) numbers are robust enough to use in calculating RDP supervision funding. This work included a data verification exercise, in which we invited all HEIs in receipt of RDP supervision funding to comment on proposed algorithms for extracting and using data.

10.   Outcomes from the data verification exercise and survey are at Annex A. The annex also describes changes made to the algorithms in light of responses received. It also explains our response to concerns raised by a few institutions about our intention in future to apply more consistently than the RAS allowed our policy of restricting eligibility for RDP supervision funding to a maximum of three years of postgraduate research study (or the part-time equivalent). Paragraphs 4-6 of Annex A address this issue in greater detail.

11.   As reported in Annex A, institutions' responses to our survey confirmed overall that the methodology, algorithms and HESA data are robust enough to use in allocating RDP supervision funding. Therefore, from 2012-13 we will use eligible PGR FTEs from the HESA student record to inform the allocation of RDP supervision funding: for 2012-13 funding we will use HESA data for 2010-11 and prior years.

Discontinuation of the Research Activity Survey

12.   Using HESA data to inform these two funding allocations from 2012-13 means that we no longer require universities to submit data through the RAS.

Further information

13.   Please address any queries about this letter to HEFCE institutional teams.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive

Date: 28 July 2011

Ref: Circular letter 19/2011

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Research funding; Finance; Data collection

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE institutional teams