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Dear Principal

Plans for the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey in further education colleges for 2014 onwards

1. We are writing to confirm the final arrangements for Higher Education in Further Education Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey.

2. This letter follows our letter of April 2013, ‘Further details of plans for the 2013 Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey in further education colleges’ (HEFCE Circular letter 08/2013), and our two feedback events held in August 2013. It includes changes to the arrangements for the first census point (April 2014) and a revised timetable.

3. This letter also asks all further education colleges with registered higher education (HE) students to let us know their indicative plans for running the survey in 2014-15. Colleges are asked to complete a questionnaire by noon on Friday 25 October 2013.


4. HEFCE Circular letter 08/2013 stated that 2013 would be a transition year in which further education colleges (FECs) would begin preparations to administer and fund the survey themselves from 2014. HEFCE will pay the full costs of the survey for the first tranche for leavers between 1 August and 31 December 2012 (the survey conducted in April 2013), and subsidise at a rate of 50 per cent the cost for the second tranche for leavers between 1 January and 31 July 2013 (the survey conducted in January 2014). After these two tranches, HEFCE will invoice each college for 50 per cent of the total cost of the January 2014 collection. Invoicing will occur in July 2014. This cost will be calculated on the basis of the number of respondents from each institution.

5. All future surveys, beginning with the two in April 2014 and January 2015 (covering students qualifying between August 2013 and July 2014), will be fully funded and administered by FECs themselves. In preparation for this, we hosted two workshop events to discuss our proposals with a number of FEC representatives. These events allowed institutions to provide feedback on our planned approach and contributed to the development of the plans described in this circular letter, as well as our arrangements to support FECs in managing the survey through a framework supplier. A summary of these events is given in Annex A.

April 2014 census point (first tranche)

6. For further education colleges in England, for one year only, the first tranche of the DLHE survey will be optional. (This is the survey conducted in April 2014 of leavers between 1 August 2013 and 31 December 2013.) The size of this first survey is usually much smaller than that of the second tranche, as the majority of HE students qualify between January and July. By making the first tranche optional we will give institutions an opportunity to prepare for the larger-scale second tranche of the survey in January 2015. Colleges may return first-tranche data to HEFCE should they wish (alongside the data from the second tranche) but they will need to make their own arrangements to run the survey and make the data return. HEFCE will work with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) to make available to FECs the online support materials required to run the first-tranche survey. Further information will be available on the HESA web-site in February 2014.

7. Any data for the first tranche will need to be returned to HEFCE at the same time as data from the second (January 2015) tranche, in March 2015, and the two sets will be combined for onward use. Information about how to return data to HEFCE for the first tranche will be available through the HEFCE extranet from November 2014.

8. Colleges whose HE cohorts will predominantly qualify between August and December 2013 may wish to run the first survey to maximise the likelihood of meeting Unistats publication thresholds. To protect individual identities, course-level data on Unistats must meet a response threshold before publication. This is currently set as at least 23 students or 50 per cent of the course cohort, whichever is greater. Where course level data do not meet this threshold, data are aggregated. Further information is available to download from the HESA website.

9. Colleges are reminded that care should be taken in the methodologies adopted when running the survey to ensure the delivery of unbiased data.

January 2015 census point (second tranche)

10. For the second tranche of the survey, covering leavers between 1 January 2014 and 31 July 2014, colleges will need to decide between the following range of options to administer the survey, and inform HEFCE of their decision by April 2014.

  1. Using the services of HEFCE’s framework supplier.
  2. Delivering the survey through a consortium of FECs.
  3. Running the survey in-house.
  4. Working with a partner higher education institution (HEI), using its systems to run the survey.
  5. Procuring their own survey organisation through a tendering process.

11. Further details about options a, b, c and d are provided below. 

The framework supplier

12. To reduce potential administrative burden for FECs, HEFCE will make a framework supplier available, initially for a period of up to three years. This will give FECs the option to secure a range of services to deliver the survey without running a procurement exercise.

13. We intend to secure a framework supplier through an existing higher education purchasing consortium. Purchasing consortia have experience in securing services on behalf of institutions, including on a national basis. HEFCE will work closely with the consortium which will hold and manage the contract for the framework supplier.

14. As part of the tendering process, the framework supplier will have shown that it has good knowledge of HE in further education colleges and can ensure high response rates, good data quality and value for money. The current costs per student surveyed have been estimated at around £10, but this is based on one contractor running the survey on behalf of all 116 institutions. We will work with the purchasing consortium and the supplier to establish a pricing model that will take into account the different sizes of institutions and levels of service required.

15. As well as reducing the administrative burden, using the framework supplier will also largely remove the responsibility for optimising data quality and response rates from colleges themselves. Provided that the institution has provided accurate and up-to-date contact records, the liability for DLHE returns with low response rates or poor data quality will rest with the framework supplier. FECs should be aware that they will be responsible for managing their contract with the framework supplier, as with any other contractual arrangement to secure a service.

16. While this arrangement is being developed primarily for FECs, other providers will be entitled to participate on the same basis. We anticipate that the framework supplier will be available no later than March 2014.

Forming a consortium of FECs or working with an HEI partner

17. A further option is for FECs to form consortia to run the survey collaboratively. This option would provide economies of scale, particularly for FECs with fewer HE students. Colleges could either opt to join other FECs or work with their partner HEIs, who will already have expertise and knowledge based on running their own surveys in-house.

18. To support FECs through this process and to assure HEFCE that institutions have sufficient resource and systems in place to manage the DLHE data return, HEFCE will ask FECs that plan to run the survey in an FEC consortium to complete a ‘preparedness checklist’ aimed at establishing full preparedness for the second tranche survey. This checklist will prompt FECs to take into account a number of factors in running the survey, including understanding of the process, technical capability and resourcing. HEFCE will provide feedback to FECs about their checklist before they run the survey, including, if appropriate, whether they should consider using an alternative method.

19. We will not expect institutions that choose to work with a partner HEI to complete a preparedness checklist, but will seek assurance that the institution will be using their HEI partner’s data collection systems.

20. The Association of Colleges (AoC) can offer advice to FECs that wish to establish consortia. Colleges should contact Nick Davy at AoC (

Running the survey in-house

21. It will also be possible for FECs to resource and administer the survey themselves, taking responsibility for achieving good data quality and an acceptable response rate.

22. As with FECs which plan to run the survey in an FEC consortium, HEFCE will ask FECs who plan to run the survey themselves to complete a ‘preparedness checklist’. See paragraph 17 for further details.

23. Where FECs in 2014-15 are unable to meet our specified threshold quality of data for the survey, we will need to agree with them a plan outlining how they will improve their data. This may include use of the supplier framework in future years.

Training events in 2014

24. HEFCE, in collaboration with HESA and AoC, will be organising two further training events in February and March 2014. The events will provide detailed information about the data submission process, including the data quality threshold we expect FECs to meet. They will also outline the support and resources available including HESA materials, and will offer the opportunity to hear from the framework supplier about its services. These events are intended to inform FECs’ decision-making on how to run the survey.

Indicative plans

25. To inform arrangements for the framework supplier and preparedness checklist, FECs are asked to complete a short online questionnaire about their indicative plans for the first and second tranches of the survey. The questionnaire should completed by noon on Friday 25 October 2013.

Expected timetable

March 2014

HEFCE framework supplier appointed

March 2014

HEFCE/AoC/HESA training events

April 2014

All FECs inform HEFCE which route they will use to run the survey

April 2014

Preparedness checklist submitted

April to June 2014

First-tranche survey undertaken (optional)

May to June 2014

Feedback on checklist provided to FECs

October 2014

FEC preparations for survey

November to March 2015

January 2015 (second-tranche) survey

March 2015

Data submission to HEFCE

26. Information about the survey, including a list of frequently asked questions and detailed timetable, will be made available online in due course. Enquiries should be addressed to HEFCE institutional teams.

Yours sincerely

Heather Fry

Director, Education, Participation and Students

Date: 7 October 2013

Ref: Circular letter 26/2013

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Higher education, Data submission, Student experience

Enquiries should be directed to:

HEFCE institutional teams