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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

1.   This letter details the latest information on the development of the Key Information Set (KIS). In particular, the letter includes:

  • an update on the development of the new official web-site that will deliver the KIS in September 2012
  • further detail about the 'KIS widget' and incorporating it into your course web-sites
  • the timetable for universities and colleges to upload their KIS data to the HEFCE extranet, for it to be published on the KIS and new official web-site
  • a reminder of where the KIS technical guidance is published
  • a reminder about how the KIS links to quality assurance
  • a reminder that universities and colleges should provide HEFCE with contact details for a link person in connection with the KIS by 10 March 2012.


2.   Since the Government issued the White Paper 'Students at the Heart of the System', we published our strategy statement: 'Opportunity, choice and excellence' (July 2011/22), which sets out the principles, priorities and practices that will guide HEFCE as we work with Government, representative bodies, universities, colleges and other partners to implement the reforms outlined in the White Paper. Following this we published a circular letter in September 2011 ('Key Information Set: publication of technical guidance and further information', HEFCE Circular letter 23/2011).

3.   Ensuring prospective students have information to enable them to make informed choices about higher education has long been a priority and will be an important element in the success of the reforms outlined in the White Paper. The KIS is crucial to this and we are pleased that the White Paper recognised the work of HEFCE, Universities UK (UUK) and GuildHE in taking this work forward, and the National Union of Students (NUS) for its active support.

4.   Following a programme of research and development, which included research into the information needs of potential students, a consultation, pilots, and expert working groups, we are now working towards the implementation of the KIS in September 2012 in line with our consultation with the sector and as per the Government’s timetable.

Development of the new official web-site

5.   The Unistats web-site has been available since 2007, providing the opportunity to search and compare subject-based course information at different institutions. We are now using Unistats as a basis to develop a new web-site that incorporates both the KIS data and Unistats data. The current Unistats site will close in September 2012, when the new official web-site will be launched.

6.   The Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG), chaired by Professor Janet Beer, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, and with representatives from across the sector, is overseeing the KIS development work and will approve the final site design and wording. Further details will be published during August, including details of how institutions will be able to review the site prior to launch.

7.   The site is being developed for HEFCE, on behalf of all the UK funding bodiessee note 1, by Eduserv, a not-for-profit web development and hosting company. To ensure it meets the needs of its key audience (potential students and their advisers), Eduserv has undertaken a programme of user testing in partnership with Fluent Interaction (a user experience and web design agency).

8.   It is vital that the explanations and definitions of the data presented on the site:

  • are not misleading
  •    do not unwittingly result in any legal issues for institutions
  •    accurately explain the data in a way that potential students and their advisers understand.

Therefore the HEPISG has established a sub-group to draft the wording and explanations that will be on the site. This group reports to the HEPISG.

Responsibility for publishing the KIS

9.   We expect each KIS to be published according to the institution at which a course is recruited to regardless of funding arrangements. The principle is that each student is recorded, for the purposes of Unistats, against the institution in which they studied in their first year. Therefore registering institutions should make their partners aware of their responsibilities in relation to the KIS (see paragraphs 81-83 of 'Provision of information about higher education: Outcomes of consultation and next steps', HEFCE 2011/18).

KIS widget

10.   The 'KIS widget' is a presentation of a small portion of the KIS data. It will appear 'in context' on university and college web-sites, on the relevant course web page. To help institutions plan how to incorporate it within their own web-site designs, see the mock-up at Annex A, please note the following details:

  1. It will have a fixed width of 200px and will be of variable height according to the length of the course name.
  2. The widget can be embedded on course pages in a similar way to embedding a YouTube video or Google map - that is, by adding a short piece of HTML code which automatically imports the data. Details of this will be published in March. Institutions will need to make two small changes to the code to identify the course and institution. Since the code that identifies the institution will be the same on all of an institution’s course pages, in practice institutions will only need to change this once; but the code that identifies the course will need to be changed for every course page to ensure the appropriate data are displayed.
  3. The design of the widget is fixed and universal, so it will not be possible for institutions to include any additional, tailored information such as additional links, for example.

11.   Institutions will be able to include widgets on their web-sites in September 2012 when the new national site is launched. We expect all institutions to have embedded widgets on all relevant course pages by the end of October. This allows time for institutions to integrate it into their web-sites.

KIS technical guidance

12.   Some of the KIS information items are sourced from national data sets, such as the National Student Survey (NSS) and the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. However, data on learning and teaching activities, assessment methods, course accreditation, student financial support and accommodation costs, and the information that allows linking to the HESA and individualised learner records and UCAS course data, will be collected from all institutions by HEFCEsee note 2 for the first year (that is, for KISs published in September 2012). From the second year onwards (that is for KISs published from September 2013 onwards), HESA will collect these data from higher education institutions (HEIs). We are working with the Information Authority to determine the best route for continuing collection of these data from further education colleges (FECs).

13.   We have worked closely with HESA to develop technical guidance so that institutions can consistently collate data for publication in the KIS. This was first published by HESA in September 2011 and, following feedback from the sector, was revised in December. A final update will be published in March 2012, and is the version that should be used by institutions when uploading their data to the HEFCE extranet; it will constitute the final guidance for the collection of data for the September 2012 KISs.

Uploading data to the HEFCE extranet

14.   As you know, institutions will need to collect the data outlined in the KIS technical guidance and upload it to the HEFCE extranet. Institutions will be able to upload this data from 29 March to 22 August. We encourage institutions to upload their data as early as possible during this period so that any issues of data quality can be resolved as soon as possible. Further details on how to access the extranet will be sent to institutions during the week commencing 12 March.

Deadlines and timescales

15.   Table 1 shows the timeline of action required for the creation of KISs for courses that will recruit students to start their studies during academic year 2013-14. The publication deadline for the web-site to go live is the week commencing 24 September 2012.

Table 1 Timeline for the creation and publication of the 2012 KIS

29 March 2012 Final technical guidance published
29 March 2012 Start of period to upload data to HEFCE extranet
22 August 2012 End of period to upload data to HEFCE extranet
Week commencing 17 September 2012 Site preview for institutions
Week commencing 24 September 2012 KIS widgets on course sites and new national, official comparison web-site go live
31 October 2012 KIS widgets must be available on all institutions’ web-sites by this date.

Internal and external quality assurance and the KIS

16.   Institutions will be responsible for quality assurance of the KIS data. Due to the volume of the data, they will not undergo the same scrutiny that is commonplace with other HESA data streams; rather, HEFCE or HESA will supply institutions with summary reports of the data, and they will have the opportunity to preview the data that will appear on the KIS before sign-off and thus assure themselves of its accuracy.

17.   The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s (QAA’s) new method of Institutional Review, introduced from the start of 2011-12, reviews the academic quality and standards in higher education institutions in England and Northern Ireland. From 2012-13, a new judgement will be introduced on the information that institutions publish. Until that point the information that HEIs publish will continue to be subject to a comment in Institutional Review but not a judgement.

18.   Following consultation and discussion it was agreed that, from academic year 2012-13:

  1. The Institutional Review will include the following judgement: ‘the public information provided by the institution is commended/meets national expectations/requires improvement to meet national expectations/does not meet national expectations’.
  2. The focus of the new judgement will be on the completeness, currency, reliability and accessibility of the information provided by institutions and on the usefulness of the information to potential students, employers and the wider public. Importantly, the information considered by QAA reviewers will be much wider than just the KIS. Reviewers will not be expected to make a judgement on the accuracy of the detailed information in the KIS, much of which is subject to its own data audit methods (see paragraphs 19 and 20 below).
  3. The revised QAA Institutional Review handbook will clarify how each of the judgement grades will be determined. (The joint UUK/GuildHE/HEFCE Quality in Higher Education Group will consider a draft of the relevant sections of the handbook in February 2012, before its publication by QAA in late spring 2012.) It is anticipated that a judgement on public information on the same basis will be included in the new arrangements for the review of higher education in FECs from 2012-13, which will replace the existing process of Integrated Quality and Enhancement Review as that draws to a close this year.
  4. Expectations will be defined in a new section of the UK Quality Code for higher education relating to public information (Part C). The Code will also refer to specific national requirements – for example, the KIS and wider information set (see HEFCE 2011/18 for more information on the wider information set). It will also go beyond these, taking a 'student lifecycle' approach to the provision of information. QAA is consulting on Part C of the Quality Code before publishing it in Spring 2012.


19.   HEFCE reserves the right to audit any of the information and data contributing to the KIS.

20.   Following the first publication of the KIS, we will carry out audits of the data and supporting information at selected institutions to assess the accuracy of the information included in KISs.

Next steps

21.   All eligible higher education providers will need to put arrangements in place to provide the required information within the timescales indicated in Table 1.

22.   Any areas where further guidance is needed should be provided/sought as outlined above.

23.   All eligible higher education providers should provide a contact that we can liaise with on the provision of KIS data and communication as requested in Circular letter 23/2011. If you have not already done so, please e-mail these details to by 10 March 2012. Please note that these contact details will be passed to the organisation that administers the KIS collection for 2013.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive


  1. The development of this new official web-site is a UK-wide project which is managed by HEFCE on behalf of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Education and Learning (in Northern Ireland).
  2. To minimise the burden on institutions, we will collect information on student financial support directly from UCAS, which is redeveloping its course search web-site and will be collecting fee information from institutions. For courses that do not recruit through UCAS, we will collect financial support information directly from institutions as part of the KIS collection.

Date: 10 February 2012

Ref: Circular letter 04/2012

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Quality assurance; Quality enhancement; Learning and teaching; Web-site management; Student data

Enquiries should be directed to:

Beth Steiner, tel 0117 931 7031, e-mail
Julia Moss, tel 0117 931 7054, e-mail
HESA’s Institutional Liaison, tel 01242 211144, e-mail