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We require all institutions to have signed off data for publication by noon on Thursday 6 August.

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Unistats and the Key Information Set: Data collection timetable and changes for 2015

1. This letter sets out information on:

  1. The processes and timetable for higher education institutions, further education colleges and alternative providers to submit their 2015 Key Information Set (KIS) data, so it can be published on the Unistats website in September 2015.
  2. Changes we are making as a result of the consultation on data publication thresholds and aggregation for Unistats and the National Student Survey (NSS).
  3. Ongoing updates to the Unistats website.

2. To facilitate dissemination we are sending separate circulars to institutions about the 2015 KIS and the publication of the 2015 NSS results, as we recognise the information may relate to different areas within institutions.

Key points to note

3. The timetable for the collection of 2015 KIS data is shown in Table 1. Feedback from institutions and our own experience indicate that the timetable changes we introduced last year were beneficial, so we have made minimal changes in this year’s timetable.

4. We require all institutions to have signed off data for publication by noon on Thursday 6 August to allow a full preview on the Unistats site, as we believe this helps ensure data quality. Where institutions identify data errors, or course details change during preview, they will need to resubmit and sign off updated data by noon on Thursday 27 August for the updates to be included on the site for the public launch. The initial sign-off for publication should be carried out by the head of institution, but formal responsibility for signing off any subsequent updates may be delegated to another member of the senior management team.

Table 1: Timetable for the collection of KIS data




28 May 2015

Data collection systems open.


Early July 2015

NSS and Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey data added.


16 July 2015

Valid data submission required.

By this date, institutions are required to have submitted a dataset which passes validation and contains the majority of their courses.

6 August 2015 (noon)

Deadline for sign-off of data.

Institutions are required to have signed off a valid dataset which is suitable for publication.

12 to 28 August 2015

Data available for preview on Unistats.


27 August 2015 (noon)

Final deadline for submission and sign-off of any amendments prior to publication of new dataset on Unistats.

Data does not need to be signed off again if no amendments have been made during the preview period.

2 September 2015

Update of Unistats website with the 2015 dataset.


Early September

Collection systems reopen for updates.

The KIS dataset is dynamic and it will be possible to make amendments on a weekly basis from September, as it is currently.

30 September

Deadline for update of KIS widgets to reflect new course data.

There are no changes to the coding of the KIS widget this year, but institutions should update these for new courses or changes to KISCourseID codes.

5. For HEFCE-funded institutions it is a condition of funding that they provide KIS data. For further information, see the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability on the HEFCE website. (Further education colleges should refer to their annual funding agreement.)

6. UK higher education providers that do not receive HEFCE funding may choose to submit KIS data, but they will need to have subscribed to the Quality Assurance Agency, and will also need to return other data to HEFCE or the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) for this data to be published.

Outcomes of the consultation on data publication thresholds and aggregation for Unistats and the National Student Survey

7. In response to feedback from the sector, between 15 December 2014 and 13 February 2015 the funding bodies consulted on proposals to:

  1. Lower the headcount or full-person equivalent (FPE1) threshold for publication of student-level data on Unistats and for publicly available NSS data, from 23 to 10.
  2. Revise the subject hierarchy used in the aggregation of data in recognition of feedback that the current hierarchy does not always reflect institutional structures well.

We would like to thank those who responded to the consultation.

8. Following the analysis of responses, we will be adopting a headcount or FPE threshold of 10 for publication of student-related data on Unistats and for publicly available NSS data from 2015.

9. We will not, however, be changing the subject hierarchy at this time. This is because the majority of respondents thought it preferable to defer to 2016, to preserve data continuity for NSS results in an important year and to allow further time to explore and agree potential changes. We will review whether it would be desirable to change the subject hierarchy for 2016 in January 2016, at which point we will know more about the future direction of Unistats and the timescales for implementation of the replacement for the Joint Academic Coding System (JACS), which is currently being developed by the HE Data and Information improvement Programme (HEDIIP). This approach has been endorsed by the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group.

10. The consultation documents are available on our website, and we will publish a full report of the analysis of responses on this page later in the spring.

11. The publication threshold change should have no impact on institutional processes or systems.

Change to data schema for KIS and new XML generation tool

12. The main change for the 2015-16 KIS collection is that the specification for the KIS file structure has changed. The XML schema sequence has been reordered, and this may affect how your institution produces the KIS XML file. Further details can be found on the HESA website on the ‘Summary of changes’ page and revision history page. (Note that any further updates to the KIS collection will also be documented on the revision history page.)

13. HESA has informed its software supplier contacts of this change, but institutions that have their own systems may need to changes them. If you have any questions about the change, please contact us at

14. In response to requests from some institutions, HESA has created a data-entry tool that outputs a valid XML file which is compliant with the new schema. This is intended to help those without the relevant systems to produce returns, and replaces the Excel file that has been available in previous years. The tool and guidance on how to use it can be accessed from the HESA website:

Internal and external quality assurance relating to the KIS

15. Institutions are responsible for the quality assurance of their KIS data. As KIS data is not static and can be updated weekly, it does not undergo the same additional manual checks as other data streams. We strongly encourage institutions to use the reports made available by HEFCE and HESA to confirm that the data is accurate, and to make use of the institutional preview period.

16. The head of institution must provide the initial sign-off to confirm the accuracy of the data. Any subsequent updates must be signed off either by the head of institution or by an individual they have nominated to act on their behalf.

17. For English institutions, HEFCE reserves the right to audit any of the information and data contributing to the KIS. The purpose of the audit is to gain assurance of the systems and protocols used in deriving the KIS data, and hence of the reliability of the data. Details of the current audit programme and reports on previous audits can be found under ‘Data audit’ on the HEFCE website.

18. We outline in the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability and annual funding agreements the actions we may take in England where we are not satisfied data is fit for purpose.

Site updates to Unistats

19. As a result of advice received when examining the issues around reducing publication thresholds, we plan to make the following changes to Unistats for publication of the 2015 KIS:

  1. Improve the tooltip text where data has been aggregated, by providing contextualised information on the specific aggregation method used.
  2. Provide a short video on the homepage to guide users on how to consider statistical uncertainty when comparing values.

Review of Unistats and the Key Information Set

20. The UK higher education funding bodies are currently undertaking a review of Unistats and the KIS. We will be consulting the sector in autumn 2015 on our proposed approach to providing information to support student choice. Further information about the wider review of the provision of information, of which this is one strand, can be found on the HEFCE website.

Further information

21. Further information on the data submission process and where to find guidance and support can be found in Annex A (for higher education institutions and alternative providers), and Annex B (for further education colleges).

22. Please refer to the contacts listed at the top of this circular letter if you have any questions about its contents.

Yours sincerely

Chris Millward

Director (Policy) 

1 FPE is a measure of headcount used where students are studying more than one subject as part of an award. For example, a student studying engineering and French would typically count as half an FPE in engineering and half an FPE in French. When considered over all subjects, every student will amount to one FPE. This measure is used for data drawn from the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey, the HESA student record, the Individualised Learner Record and the Lifelong Learning Wales record.

Date: 10 April 2015

Ref: Circular letter 11/2015

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of universities in Scotland, Heads of other higher education providers submitting KIS data in 2015

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Quality assurance, Quality enhancement, Learning and teaching, Website management 

Enquiries should be directed to:

Catherine Nixon, tel 0117 931 7476, email
HESA’s institutional liaison, tel 01242 211144, email