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Dear Principal

Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey: Information and requirements for FECs for 2017 and beyond

1. We are writing to provide information and clarification of the requirements for the Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey process. This includes further details about the change of preferred supplier and an event to learn more about the services the new supplier can offer to institutions. No response is required.

2. As was the case last year, providers of higher education (HE) can choose to run the survey in-house, to conduct the survey collaboratively with other providers or to work with an external contractor (by appointing their own contractor or using HEFCE’s preferred supplier).

3. This circular letter provides information for further education and sixth form colleges (FECs), particularly those new to the survey. It includes a timeline to help with planning the 2017 DLHE data collection (see Annex A) and good practice on carrying out the survey. More detailed guidance on conducting the survey will be published on our website in September.

Background: the DLHE survey dataset and what it is used for

4. The DLHE survey collects information on what all leavers from higher education programmes are doing six months after qualifying from their HE course. There are two annual DLHE collections and census points.

  1. The first collection (tranche 1) in April covers leavers between 1 August and 31 December.
  2. The second collection (tranche 2) in January covers leavers between 1 January and 31 July.

5. The survey is a condition of grant funding for directly funded FECs. The data it collects is of national importance; it is published as part of FECs’ performance indicators, and is used to provide information for prospective undergraduate students through the Unistats website. It is also anticipated that DLHE data will be used in the Teaching Excellence Framework and it will figure more centrally within the new quality assessment processes (see

Support for managing the survey – a new preferred supplier

6. FECs have the option to outsource the survey work. As last year, colleges can contract with our preferred supplier to run the survey on their behalf. This option is also available to any other UK higher education provider with responsibility for administering the DLHE, including alternative providers.

7. The advantages of outsourcing are that the supplier will run the survey on the College’s behalf and take responsibility for collecting and returning the DLHE survey data to HEFCE. Using the preferred supplier has the further benefit of being able to appoint an external contractor without the costs or requirements of running a separate procurement exercise.

8. Our contract with the previous preferred supplier, the Careers Group (TCG), has ended and HEFCE is tendering for a new preferred supplier through an open procurement exercise. The new supplier and pricing structure will be announced by the end of September 2016.

9. A DLHE survey event for FECs will take place in Birmingham on Thursday 13 October 2016. This event will provide an opportunity to ask questions about running the DLHE, to share good practice on maximising response rates, and to meet the new preferred supplier. Invitations for this event will be sent out in early September.

10. Any provider wishing to sign up with the new preferred supplier should make direct contact before the end of October to ensure that all administrative preparations are ready for the January 2017 survey.

Responsibilities of FECs in running the DLHE survey

11. In England, conducting the DLHE survey is a condition of HEFCE grant funding. All colleges in receipt of HEFCE funding are expected to survey all students who achieve a recognised higher education qualification. There is no minimum number for the survey to be conducted. It should be noted that student leavers who attend your college but are part of a sub-contractual arrangement with another provider should be surveyed by the contracting provider, rather than your college.

12. As the survey is of national importance, colleges should promote awareness and understanding of the DLHE to their HE students during their studies. As with other surveys, the option to opt out of the DLHE should be offered to students, but we can only accept opt-outs where the survey has been offered to the student specifically by name, and then declined.

13. Colleges are responsible for funding and administering the DLHE data collection and maintaining the appropriate systems and processes to support as high a response rate to the survey as possible. The expected response rates in conducting the survey are:

  • 80 per cent for UK-domiciled (home) leavers who previously studied full-time
  • 70 per cent for UK-domiciled leavers who studied part-time
  • 80 per cent for Research Council-funded students
  • 50 per cent for all other European Union (EU) students
  • 20 per cent for non-EU students.

14. Data from the DLHE survey for 2014-15 leavers (the second tranche of which was undertaken in January 2016) show that a number of FECs struggled to reach the target response rate or had significant problems submitting their data to HEFCE.

15. High response rates are necessary in order for us to publish the data. The response rates in paragraph 13 bring the requirements in line with those placed on other institutions to ensure a level playing field. They also ensure that we present robust and representative data on Unistats.

16. When we publish DLHE survey outcomes, we will apply a response rate threshold consistent with that used for the publication of DLHE data institutional performance indicators (see This is 68 per cent for responses from full-time students and 59.5 per cent for part-time students.

17. Our intention is to introduce these thresholds for publication of the 2017 survey data. In the interim, we will publish DHLE survey data only where at least 50 per cent of responses have been received at institutional level.

18. Any FEC that does not achieve the expected response rate may be asked by us to develop a recovery plan outlining the activities it will undertake to improve DLHE response rates. This is required because low response rates cannot give assurance that the submitted data is a representative sample of the eligible student population.

19. Any failure to deliver DLHE data to HEFCE on time is treated as a breach of the condition in an FEC’s funding agreement regarding the provision of information to students.

20. Colleges should also be aware that as part of the upcoming quality assessment arrangements, there will be a greater emphasis on use of data to provide evidence of positive student outcomes. Data will form a central part of the processes used to assess quality in providers on an annual basis, which will be reported back to institutions through a quality letter issued in the spring. Any areas identified as being of concern will require additional discussions between HEFCE and the college. It is also anticipated that DLHE data will be among the core metrics used in the Teaching Excellence Framework.

Maximising response rates – information for FECs

21. Response rates depend on a number of factors including, but not limited to: the timings and methods used to contact graduates; the type of alumni contact details available (and whether they are current); and whether students understand the purpose and importance of the DLHE and expect to be contacted to take part.

22. There is a direct correlation between the quality of the student contact details and DLHE response rates. For this reason we encourage all providers to ensure that they have the most up-to-date contact details for their graduating students before they leave, and if possible collect more than one type (from email, phone and postal address).

23. Response rates have also been found to be higher in cohorts of graduates who have a good understanding of the purpose of the DLHE. We encourage all providers to promote awareness of the survey to their students, throughout the year, to encourage them to take part. Promotional materials and guidance can be downloaded from the HESA website at

24. Finally, I would like to thank all providers for their continued support in conducting the DLHE survey and contributing to the provision of information that helps prospective students make decisions about which course to study. If you have any questions, please contact

Yours sincerely

Chris Millward

Director (Policy)

Date: 1 September 2016

Ref: Circular letter 26/2016

To: Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Higher education managers, Managers of management information systems, DLHE survey managers

Enquiries should be directed to:

Julia Moss, tel 0117 931 9054, email