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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Unistats and the Key Information Set: Site updates and the data collection timetable for 2013

1. This letter sets out information on updates to the Unistats web-site, as well as instructions for the data collection process for the 2013 Key Information Set (KIS). In particular, the letter outlines the following.

  1. Updates to the Unistats web-site, which will be re-launched in September 2013.
  2. Updates to the KIS ‘widget’, which will be made available from September 2013.
  3. The processes and timetable for higher education providers (HEIs), further education colleges (FECs) and alternative providers to submit their 2013 KIS data to be published on the updated Unistats web-site in September 2013. Note that this letter does not outline the process for the dissemination of 2013 NSS data, which will be sent to institutions via a separate letter.

2. The Higher Education Public Information Steering Group will continue to oversee Unistats and publication of the KIS.


3. A key strand of the Government’s 2011 Higher Education White Paper was that institutions were to deliver ‘a better student experience’. The paper outlined a number of proposals for relevant activity streams, including improving and expanding ‘the information available to prospective students, making available much more information about individual courses at individual institutions and graduate employment prospects’.

4. The KIS is a set of standardised information about undergraduate courses, which enables them to be easily compared. It has been designed with the needs of prospective students in mind, and is based on what they say they need. The KIS is published on the Unistats web-site, and major updates to information will be made annually in September.

5. The Unistats web-site and KIS data can also be accessed via a small dynamic advertisement, or ‘widget’, on the course web-pages of universities and colleges.

Development of the new Unistats-KIS web-site

6. The Unistats web-site has been available since 2007, providing prospective students and others with the opportunity to search for and compare subject-based course information at different institutions. In 2012, Unistats became the foundation for the development of a new web-site, which incorporated the new KIS data alongside the original Unistats data. The site was developed for HEFCE on behalf of all the UK funding bodies,including the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, the Scottish Funding Council and the Department for Education and Learning in Northern Ireland. The new web-site was developed by Eduserv, a not-for-profit web development and hosting company, in association with the user experience and web design agency Fluent Interaction, and was launched in September 2012. It has been designed to be renewed each year, to show information for courses beginning in the following year: this means that from September 2013 the site will show new data for courses starting in 2014-15.

2013 site updates

7. Following the 2012 re-launch, on behalf of the four UK HE funding bodies, HEFCE led an early evaluation of the functioning of the new version of Unistats and the KIS. This evaluation comprised three strands:

  • Strand A: The user experience
  • Strand B: The institutional perspective
  • Strand C: A data audit.

Strand C is discussed in paragraph 25.

8. In Strand A, the International Centre for Guidance Studies reviewed the experiences of prospective students and other users on HEFCE’s behalf. A report on the evaluation was published in May 2013. Overall findings suggested that in general users responded positively to the site, and recognised its value as a tool for comparing higher education courses. The report also identified a number of issues reported by users, including the accessibility and effectiveness of the search function, and the clarity of menu options.

9. In Strand B, the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reviewed the experiences of institutions whose KIS data were published on the Unistats site. The report on the Strand B work was also published in May 2013. The evaluation allowed institutions to identify a number of issues with how their KIS data appeared on the Unistats web-site: for example, a concern from some institutions that some part-time provision was not visible to students. In addition, institutions indicated that it would be useful to capture in a more structured way elements of courses for which students might want to search.

10. Following on from the evaluation work and the post-launch usability work, HEFCE has commissioned a number of key updates to improve the functionality and effectiveness of the Unistats site. Updates for September 2013 will include:

  • improvements to the search function, including the display of search results
  • inclusion of a facility to filter by location
  • improvement of the Course Assistant
  • inclusion of social media access buttons.

11. Other findings from the evaluation will take longer to be implemented, as we are considering how to address them.

2013 updates to the  KIS widget

12. The KIS ‘widget’ is a small application which is embedded into institutions’ relevant web-pages, showing users the key KIS data for specific courses. In response to views expressed in the evaluation, an updated version of the KIS widget will be launched in September 2013 alongside the updated Unistats site. Annex A shows a mock-up indicating what the KIS widget for 2013 will look like, in comparison with the 2012 widget. Key changes to the 2013 widget include the following.

  1. Only one item of KIS information (rather than three) will be displayed at a time. The KIS information items will still scroll as before.
  2. The widget contains headline data in a larger font size.
  3. Information about mode of study and course characteristics, such as a year abroad, sandwich year or foundation year, will be displayed under the course title.
  4. The development of a mobile-accessible version of the site.
  5. Only the smaller widget (in the 190 x 500 pixels vertical, or 615 x 150 horizontal forms) will be available.

Only the smaller version of the widget will be in use from 19 September: institutions currently using the larger version of the 2012 widget on their pages will find this creates a margin of blank space around the widget, impacting upon the appearance of institutional pages. To rectify this, we would encourage institutions to update to the new, smaller widget as soon as possible once it becomes available, and in time for the 19 September launch, adjusting the formatting of their own content to fit around it.

13. A test version of the new widget will be made available to institutions from mid-June 2013 (further details will be available in the published guidance). Institutions will be able to include the final version of the new widget on their sites following the September 2013 re-launch. By the end of October, institutions will be expected to have the updated widget displayed prominently on main pages of their relevant courses (those where a KIS is required). Guidance on how to embed the widget will be made available by HESA before the September launch.

Processes and timetable for KIS 2013 data collection

14. In 2012 KIS information was sourced from data sets including the National Student Survey (NSS) and the HESA Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. HEFCE collected additional data from all institutions 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. In 2013, HESA will collect these data from HEIs and alternative providers, while HEFCE will collect KIS data for FECs.

15. All institutions are expected to provide KIS data, which will be published on the basis of the institution at which a course is taught, regardless of funding arrangements. The principle is that each student is recorded, for the purposes of Unistats, against the institution where they studied in their first year. Therefore registering institutions should make their partners aware of their responsibilities in relation to the KIS (See ‘Collaborative provision’ on the HESA web-site).

Table 1. Timetable for the collection of 2013 KIS data



29 May

Data collection opens


NSS and DLHE data added to KIS data

22 August

Last submission and sign-off


System re-opens for updates

Longitudinal DLHE data added

Preview week (see paragraph 16)

19 September

Unistats site is re-launched

Note: The C13061 collection database allows access to the HESA data collection system (for HEIs and alternative providers) or the HEFCE extranet (for FECs),to test files against validation and exception checks prior to the last submission and sign-off date.

16. For more information on HESA data collection requirements for KIS, see ‘Timescales for data collection – stages of data submission’ on the HESA web-site.

17. HEIs, alternative providers, and FECs will be able to preview their KIS data on Unistats for one week before the site updates go live. Access arrangements for this preview period will be communicated in due course.

KIS data collection – HEIs and alternative providers

18. A user guide for submitting KIS record data for HEIs and alternative providers is available under ‘KIS collection’ on the HESA web-site. Access and PIN codes have been distributed to HESA’s KIS record contacts. (Note that, for HEIs, the sign-off procedure for C13061 differs from that of the C12061 collection.)

19. HESA monitors the data collection system to ensure institutions are progressing well and not encountering difficulties. However if you need assistance with the submission process, contact HESA’s institutional liaison (tel 01242 211144, e-mail

KIS data collection – FECs

20. Further education colleges will need to collect the data outlined in HEFCE’s KIS technical guidance and upload it to the HEFCE extranet. Details of how to access the extranet were sent to KIS contacts in a letter by Richard Puttock on 28 May, and colleges were able to begin uploading these data from Wednesday 29 May. We encourage institutions to upload their data as early as possible after 29 May, so that any issues of data quality can be resolved as soon as possible.

KIS data collection – all higher education providers

21. Institutions are required to provide complete data that have passed all stages of validation and been signed off to HESA (in the case of HEIs and alternative providers) or HEFCE (for FECs) by 22 August 2013. Institutions will not be able to upload data between 22 August and 19 September. Thereafter, they will be able to upload data for publication on a weekly basis as before, provided they have been signed off by the Head of Institution.

22. A single validation failure will result in no data being imported into the system. Data which fail validation will not be considered to have been returned to HESA or HEFCE.

Internal and external quality assurance and the KIS

23. Institutions will be responsible for assuring the quality of their KIS data. Given the volume of the data, they will not undergo the same scrutiny as other HESA data streams. HESA will supply HEIs and alternative providers, and HEFCE will provide FECs, with a summary report of their own data, and they will have the opportunity to preview the data that will appear on the KIS, so they can confirm that they are accurate before sign-off.

24. Institutional KIS data must be signed off by the Head of Institution before they are used on the Unistats web-site.


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

26. Two further education colleges and 10 HEIs were selected for a pilot audit exercise of the 2012 KIS, carried out between November 2012 and February 2013. Key findings showed that institutions appeared overall to have good-quality systems and processes for the KIS (especially given that it was then in its first year), but that there were issues around the interpretation of guidance, and the maintenance of an adequate audit trail. The guidance has since been updated to ensure consistent interpretation. The outcomes of this report are available under ‘Data audit’ on the HEFCE web-site.

Next steps

27. All eligible higher education providers should ensure that arrangements are in place to provide the required information within the timetable indicated in Table 1. If further guidance or advice is needed, refer to the contacts listed at the top of this letter.

28. Last year, all eligible institutions were asked (in ‘Key Information Set: publication of technical guidance and further information’, HEFCE Circular letter 23/2011) to provide HEFCE with a contact for purposes of KIS liaison. HEFCE and HESA hold separate lists of KIS contacts, and it is essential you ensure that the details for your nominated institutional KIS contact remain up-to-date in both of these. For HESA records, institutions should e-mail, and will then be given access to make the necessary changes on HESA’s online contact management system. To update HEFCE’s records, e-mail by 16 June 2013.

Yours sincerely

Heather Fry

Director of Education, Participation and Students

Date: 25 June 2013

Ref: Circular letter 17/2013

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of other higher education providers submitting KIS data in 2013

Of interest to those
responsible for:

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

Enquiries should be directed to:

Sophie Melton Bradley, tel 0117 931 7455, e-mail

Julia Moss, tel 0117 931 7054, e-mail

HESA’s institutional liaison, tel 01242 211144, e-mail