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Dear Head of Provider

Unistats: Data collection timetable and changes for 2017

1. This letter sets out information on:

  • the changes to the Unistats website and associated data collection for 2017
  • the approach to publication of the results of the new National Student Survey and Destination of Leavers from Higher Education survey data on Unistats for 2017
  • the processes and timetable for providers to submit their Unistats data for 2017.

Key points to note

2. As a result of the Review of Unistats overseen by the UK Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (, we are making changes to the Unistats website and data return.

3. The Key Information Set (KIS) data collection has been renamed and is now known as the Unistats data collection.

4. The Unistats data collection requires providers to return a reduced dataset which includes links to detailed information about course delivery and costs on their own websites. The timetable for the collection of 2017 Unistats data is shown in Table 1.

5. We require all providers to have signed off data for publication by noon on Thursday 3 August 2017. This will allow them to preview the information on the Unistats site, and thus help to ensure data quality. Where providers identify data errors, or their course details change during preview, they will need to resubmit and sign off updated data by noon on Thursday 24 August 2017.This data will then be included on the live site when it is updated on 4 September 2017. The dataset for publication should initially be signed off by the accountable officer, but formal responsibility for signing off any subsequent updates may be delegated to another member of the senior management team.

6. For HEFCE-funded institutions, it is a condition of funding that they provide Unistats data. For further information, see the Memorandum of Assurance and Accountability on the HEFCE website (HEFCE 2016/12, Further education colleges should refer to their annual funding agreement.

7. From 2017, all alternative providers of higher education with specific course designation must provide Unistats data. For further information, see ‘Specific course designation for alternative higher education providers: Guidance for providers – Criteria and conditions’ (

Changes to the Unistats website and data collection for 2017

8. Research with prospective and current students, carried out as part of the Review of Unistats (see the ‘Report on the Review of the Key Information Set and Unistats’,, found that detailed information about course structure and delivery was most important to prospective students, and that the summary metrics presented on Unistats were not the best way to provide this type of information. The ‘Consultation on changes to the National Student Survey, Unistats and information provided by institutions’ (HEFCE 2015/24,, published as part of the ‘Review of information about learning and teaching, and the student experience’, therefore included proposals for changes to the KIS data collection. In view of the broad support for these proposals, the following data has been removed:

  • proportion of time spent in scheduled learning and teaching and independent study
  • proportion of assessment by method
  • tuition fee information
  • accommodation costs.

9. Providers are now expected to publish detailed information about course delivery and costs on their own websites in line with the Competition and Market Authority advice ( The UK higher education funding bodies have developed good practice guidance to assist with this ( Further details are available in ‘Good practice guide on publishing information for prospective undergraduate students’ (HEFCE Circular letter 05/2017), which we are issuing concurrently with this circular letter. Unistats course pages will link directly to this information for the relevant course on the provider’s website, giving prospective students access to it as part of their course search.

10. The data collection has been renamed to reflect this new approach and to respond to feedback received through the consultation (HEFCE 2015/24) about the desirability of a single recognisable brand in promoting use of Unistats.

11. The validation for course titles has been relaxed in response to feedback, to enable course titles on Unistats more closely to reflect those on provider websites. There is also now an option to reflect whether a part-time course is optionally available by distance learning.

12. In addition to reflecting these changes, the Unistats website will be updated in 2017 to include the new National Student Survey, Teaching Excellence Framework Year 2 outcomes and Annual Provider Review judgements for relevant providers.

13. Further detail of the changes to the data collection for 2017 can be found on the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) website (

14. We are in discussions with the Department for Education, in the context of the Higher Education Reforms in England, on further potential changes. These include improvements to the website and the potential use of data from the Longitudinal Educational Outcomes dataset and the proposed transparency duty in England.

Approach to the publication of the National Student Survey (NSS) and Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey (DLHE)

15. Previously, where we have not initially had sufficient NSS or DLHE responses to meet publication thresholds, we have attempted to meet thresholds by aggregating responses with those from the previous year, and then at subject level. Because of the changes this year to the NSS (new questions and changes in the wording and order of existing questions), we will not aggregate 2017 NSS responses with 2016 responses. Where there is not sufficient NSS data to publish, we will attempt to meet thresholds by aggregating it at subject level.

16. We believe that this approach is the most methodologically robust and it was supported by more respondents than approaches involving aggregation of some responses over two years when we consulted on this in summer 2016 (see ‘Outcomes and summary of responses’ to the consultation on detailed changes to the Key Information Set data collection for 2017 and approaches to presenting data on the successor to the Unistats website ( It was considered to be the most straightforward for students to understand and the least open to misinterpretation.

17. We will continue to aggregate DLHE responses over two years initially, where one year’s data does not meet publication thresholds.

18. As advised in the 2016 circular letter (HEFCE Circular letter 09/2016), in 2017 we are implementing publication thresholds for responses to the DLHE survey in line with institutional performance indicator thresholds, for example a response rate of 68 per cent for UK full-time students and 59.5 per cent for UK part-time students. 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.

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

19. Providers are responsible for the quality of their Unistats data. As Unistats data is not static and can be updated weekly, it does not undergo the same additional checks by HEFCE or HESA as other data streams. We strongly encourage providers to use the reports made available by HEFCE and HESA to confirm that the data is accurate, and to make use of the preview period.

20. Initially, the accountable officer must sign off the data to confirm its accuracy. Any subsequent updates must be signed off either by the accountable officer or by an individual they have nominated to act on their behalf.

21. HEFCE reserves the right to audit any of the information and data contributed to Unistats by English providers. The purpose of the audit is to gain assurance of the systems and protocols used in deriving the data, and hence of the reliability of the data. Details of the current audit programme and reports on previous KIS audits can be found under ‘Data audit’ on the HEFCE website (,audit/).

22. The process that the funding bodies will follow in response to concerns 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, but sets out in more detail the process we will follow and the action we may take where we are not satisfied that the data is fit for purpose.

23. Table 1 shows the timetable for the collection of data.

Table 1 Timetable for the 2017 Unistats collection




25 May 2017

Data collection systems open.


Early July 2017

NSS and DLHE survey data added.


13 July 2017

Valid data submission required.

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

3 August 2017 (noon)

Deadline for sign-off of data.

Providers are required to have signed off as accurate a dataset which has passed system validation and is suitable for publication.

9 to 23 August 2017 

Data available for preview on Unistats website.


24 August 2017 (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.

4 September 2017

Update of Unistats website with the 2017 dataset.


Early September 2017

Collection systems reopen for updates.

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

29 September 2017

Deadline for update of widgets to reflect new course data.

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


Further information

24. 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).

25. Please contact Sandy Grenar (tel 0117 931 7239, email if you have any questions about the content of this letter.

26. Thank you for your ongoing support and engagement with Unistats and the provision of information for prospective students.

Yours sincerely

Chris Millward

Director (Policy)


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Annex A: Further information for higher education institutions, Welsh further education institutes and alternative providers of higher education

Download the Annex_A as PDF (103 KB) Download the Annex_A as MS Word (61 KB)

Annex B: Further information for English further education colleges

Download the Annex_B as PDF (104 KB) Download the Annex_B as MS Word (61 KB)


Date: 6 March 2017

Ref: Circular letter 04/2017

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 alternative providers of higher education with specific course designation

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, Sandy Grenar, tel 0117 931 7239, email

HESA’s institutional liaison, tel 01242 211144, email