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Dear Accountable Officer

2016-17 HESA AP data checking tool

1. This circular letter notifies alternative providers (APs) of the process for quality assuring their Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data using outputs generated by HEFCE. These outputs allow providers to verify, and where appropriate correct, their 2016-17 HESA AP student data before signing it off with HESA.

2. HESA and HEFCE strongly encourage engagement with these outputs, which we regard as an essential element of all providers’ data quality processes. It will help providers:

  • to return accurate data to HESA
  • to verify the accuracy of derived fields that will be used to inform and monitor student number controls (SNCs), and measure academic performance
  • to respond to data verification queries raised by HEFCE staff
  • to identify errors in the Higher Education in Alternative Providers Early Statistics survey for 2016-17 (HEAPES16).

3. Providers may view their outputs by submitting their data to HESA’s 2016-17 AP student data collection system; this will automatically trigger the generation of the outputs in the Information Reporting Interface Service (IRIS) which will be made available as the ‘IRIS – HEAPES reconciliation and Funding Council output’ report which can be accessed through the HESA data collection system.

Action required

4. We strongly recommend that all providers check the credibility of these outputs as part of their internal quality assurance process.

5. In addition, HEFCE staff will query (via HESA’s Minerva Data Quality System) potential errors in the HESA data identified via the outputs. Resolving these queries often takes days or weeks, as responses may trigger further questions. We therefore recommend that providers respond to all HEFCE queries as soon as possible. Failure to do so may delay the signing-off of the HESA data, or make sign-off impossible. Further details of this process are described in the ‘Data verification’ section of our website. 

6. If, in the course of this verification process, providers are unclear what is being asked of them, they should respond through the Minerva system so that HEFCE can assist. HEFCE appreciates that for many providers and their staff, returning data to HESA and undertaking this verification process represents a relatively new and complex activity. HEFCE will seek, wherever possible, to make this process straightforward, although all parties must recognise that a certain degree of technical knowledge and ability is required to return accurate data. We hope that the outputs we are making available are useful in helping focus attention where there may be issues in submitted data, so that data may be corrected in good time before the relevant HESA deadlines.


7. The release timetable for the outputs is as follows:

     By Friday 18 August 2017

  1. HEAPES16 comparison.

     By Friday 22 September 2017

  1. 2016-17 Final year outcome metrics.

     By Friday 20 October 2017

  1. 2016-17 Student Loans Company (SLC) comparison
  2. 2016-17 Pearson qualification comparison.

8. We will email providers’ data contacts to announce their availability.

HEAPES16 comparison

9. The HEAPES16 comparison output compares the original HEAPES16 data submitted with a re-creation of the survey from the 2016-17 HESA data.

10. The output will contain illustrative recruitment against the 2016-17 SNCs. Once the data has been signed off we will produce a final comparison against the provider’s HEAPES16 return using this data. This will be used to determine whether the provider has recruited above its 2016‑17 SNCs. The algorithms used to generate the outputs are generally expected to be those used in the final HEAPES16 comparison. We may, however, make changes where we believe these will improve the algorithms.

11. Where this output reveals discrepancies between the HESA and original HEAPES data, we expect providers to take full account of the reason for these when preparing any future HEAPES returns.

2016-17 Final year outcome metrics

12. The Department for Education (DfE) has asked HEFCE to develop new performance metrics. These analyse the outcomes of full-time students who reach their final year of study. The DfE has indicated that it will use these metrics, together with the UK Performance Indicators published by HESA, to assess providers’ academic performance.

13. We are producing the final year outcome metrics through the data checking tool to give providers early sight of the methodology for this, and to prompt the correction of data errors. Although HEFCE will not raise queries about these metrics, we strongly encourage providers to view them and to familiarise themselves with the methodology.

14. The algorithms used to generate the outputs are generally expected to be the same as the final metrics which will be shared with the DfE once the HESA data is signed off. We may, however, make changes where we believe these will improve the algorithms.

2016-17 SLC comparison

15. This output compares a provider’s HESA data with records the SLC holds regarding its students to establish whether there are inconsistencies between the two, with regard to students receiving student support.

2016-17 Pearson qualification comparison

16. This output compares HESA data with a provider’s Pearson records to establish where there are inconsistencies between the two, with regard to students receiving Pearson qualifications.

Data confidentiality

17. HEFCE staff will access data submitted to HESA before sign-off and will raise queries about this data, with a view to improving the quality of a provider’s returns or to investigate algorithmic issues. Further information on how we handle personal data can be provided on request. See our website for further details.

18. The outputs generated from a provider’s SLC and Pearson return should be kept in confidence. In viewing this output, through HESA’s Minerva Data Quality System, you accept this commitment of confidentiality.

Further information

19. Technical information (including algorithms) is listed under ‘Technical Documentation – Alternative Providers’. The documentation for each output will be published as it becomes available.

20. If you require any further information or guidance please contact Sam Rogala-Bojakowski, tel 0117 931 7138, email

Yours sincerely

Mario Ferelli

Director (Analytical Services)

Date: 7 August 2017

Ref: Circular letter 32/2017

Of interest to those
responsible for:

Student data, Planning, Finance, Audit

Enquiries should be directed to:

Sam Rogala-Bojakowski, tel 0117 931 7138, email