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Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Unistats and the Key Information Set: Data collection timetable and changes for 2016

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 2016 Key Information Set (KIS) data, so it can be published on the Unistats website at the end of August 2016.
  2. The process that the funding bodies have introduced to consider concerns about the quality of data on Unistats.
  3. The introduction of a threshold for responses below which we will not publish Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey data.
  4. Changes to the Key Information Set and Unistats on which we have recently consulted.
  5. Ongoing updates to the Unistats website.

2. As in previous years, we are sending a separate circular letter about the publication of the 2016 National Student Survey (NSS) results (HEFCE Circular letter 05/2016), as we recognise the information may relate to different areas within institutions.

Key points to note

3. The timetable for the collection of 2016 KIS data is shown in Table 1.

4. Changes arising from the funding bodies’ recent consultation on the review of information do not affect the 2016 KIS return, which should be completed as set out in this circular letter.

5. We require all institutions to have signed off data for publication by noon on 4 August 2016 to allow institutions to preview the information on the Unistats site, as this helps ensure data quality. Where institutions identify data errors, or their course details change during preview, they will need to resubmit and sign off updated data by noon on 25 August 2016for the updates to be included on the live site when it is updated with the 2016 data. The initial sign-off of the dataset 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.

Timetable for the 2016 KIS collection

Table 1: Timetable for the collection of KIS data




26 May 2016

Data collection systems open.


Early July 2016          

NSS and DLHE survey data added.


14 July 2016   

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.

4 August 2016 (noon)

Deadline for sign-off of data.

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

10 to 24 August 2016 

Data available for preview on Unistats website.


25 August 2016 (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.

31 August 2016

Update of Unistats website with the 2016 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.

6. 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.

7. Alternative providers may choose to submit KIS data, but they will also need to have signed the appropriate contract with the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and HEFCE, which requires them to complete the Alternative Provider Student record and participate in the NSS and DLHE survey.

Internal and external data quality assurance and process for responding to concerns

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. The process that the funding bodies will follow where concerns exist about the quality of data on Unistats is available on the HEFCE website. For institutions in England, this builds on the statement in the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability and annual funding agreements to provide further clarification about the process we will follow and the action we may take where we are not satisfied data is fit for purpose.

Threshold for publication of DLHE survey data

12. We have a responsibility to ensure that the information we publish on Unistats is robust, and we apply publication thresholds to student-related data both for this purpose and to ensure responses cannot be attributed to individuals. We currently require a response rate of at least 50 per cent for National Student Survey responses in addition to the headcount publication threshold of 10, but we have not previously applied a formal response rate threshold for DLHE survey data.  Our view is that it would be appropriate to apply a response rate threshold consistent with that used for the publication of DLHE data in institutional performance indicators. This is 68 per cent for responses from full-time students and 59.5 per cent for part-time students.

13. As we have not advised the sector of this change prior to this year’s DLHE survey, our intention is to introduce these thresholds for publication of the 2017 survey data (and apply them in the same way as we apply thresholds for NSS – so that responses from students on the course will need to meet the threshold for data to be published at course level, and responses at subject level will need to meet the threshold for the data to be published at that level). In the interim, we will publish DHLE data where at least 50 per cent of responses have been received at institutional level.

Review of Unistats and KIS

14. The UK higher education funding bodies have recently consulted on changes to Unistats and KIS arising from the review of information. In the consultation we proposed to:

  1. Maintain a UK website of authoritative national data for students, their advisers and other stakeholders (currently Unistats).
  2. Provide more help for students to consider the questions to ask about course choice and to navigate information during their decision-making journey.
  3. Redesign Unistats to reflect diverse student information needs.
  4. Remove learning, teaching and assessment data and some other elements of the KIS from the central data collection, and to transfer to institutions the responsibility for publishing this type of information, to provide the level of detail students want.
  5. Provide good practice developed with sector experts to support consistent but nuanced presentation of information by institutions.

15. The full consultation proposals arising from the review of information about learning and teaching and the student experience can be found on the HEFCE website. The outcomes of the consultation will be published in May 2016 and any changes will come into effect for the 2017 data collection. We will confirm changes in August 2016.

16. The consultation will not affect the 2016 KIS collection.

Site updates to Unistats

17. We are making minor enhancements to the Unistats website for the publication of the 2016 KIS. These seek to enhance the usefulness of the information we publish and include:

  1. Percentage response rates to the National Student Survey and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey alongside the number of respondents.
  2. Degree outcomes for integrated Masters courses.

18. We will also recalculate and display UCAS tariff scores for qualifications held on entry based on the new tariff. This will allow this information to be more useful to prospective students, as any offer information institutions publish which uses tariffs will be expressed in terms of the new tariff.

Further information

19. 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).

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

21. Thank you for your continued support in helping us to provide robust, reliable information to prospective students. Our research with users has shown that the Unistats website is valued by those who use it and we continue to work to promote its use with students, teachers and careers advisers.

Yours sincerely

Chris Millward

Director (Policy)

Date: 28 April 2016

Ref: Circular letter 09/2016

To: Heads of universities in Northern Ireland, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions, Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges
Heads of universities in Scotland Heads of alternative providers submitting KIS data in 2016

Of interest to those
responsible for:

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

Enquiries should be directed to:

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