Our plan for receiving and processing HE-in-FE data.
In 2022, the HE College project will start. The vision of this project is to ingest Higher Education (HE) Further Education (FE) data from across the UK into the HESA record with the aim of having all UK HE data in one place.
We use the term ‘HE college’ to refer to students studying HE courses in an FE setting. Currently, each devolved administration in the UK collects its own HE college dataset using different data definitions and standards. Having multiple sets of administrative data that differ significantly from each other makes it difficult for users to collect and produce information about all UK higher education students. The Office of Regulation of Statistics identified this as a gap in consistent and integrated data, so at HESA we have made it our goal to make this data available.
Identifying the data needs of an HE college
Details of higher education at universities across the UK are available and easily accessible to everyone at HESA. However, the same cannot be said for HE supplied by FE suppliers. As different government data collectors publish reports on higher education institutions in each country in the UK, franchising arrangements are not easy to spot and no single organization currently brings together all these sources into one large data set. Thus, even though FE providers are long-standing HE providers, relatively little is known about them as HE providers. As a result, they are often left out of discussions about the provision of higher education. However, Wales is an exception as HESA collects data on Welsh educational institutions. These providers are currently HESA subscribers, which means we collect data directly from them. College HE data in Wales is fully integrated with our HE student data and included in our UK-wide publications.
More recently, we have seen a shift in emphasis in education policy. Across the UK there is evidence of a move towards higher education which sees both HE and HE as part of a single education system. This shift in higher education policy reaffirms the importance of having consistent and comparable college education data to improve our understanding of the sector.
This project aligns with our strategic goals at HESA. One of our missions is to increase the range, depth and timeliness of published data. To achieve this, we work with UK administrations, departments for education and regulators to improve the consistency of higher education statistics across the UK. Now we want to create more value for users by combining or contextualizing HESA data with data from other sources.
Welsh FE providers are currently HESA subscribers, which means we collect data directly from them. This data is fully integrated with our university student data and included in our publications. HESA also collects some limited FE data in England and Northern Ireland, which is used to run the Graduate Outcomes Survey and analyze its results. In addition, we collect student data on joint and franchise services at FE colleges across the UK. We also publish some data on planned courses, including HE, held in colleges in the Unistats dataset.
Although we have access to some data on FE providers, there remain significant gaps in the provision of college HE statistics. In particular, we intend to address the gaps in UK-wide student data, in particular the lack of detailed information on HE college students. It is clear from our discussions with stakeholders and potential users that this is an area of high priority.
The HESA’s latest student publication (HESA, 2022) shows that 161,820 students are enrolled in higher education courses at FE colleges in the UK. This figure comes from FE funders and regulators in each UK administration. This basic list of the total number of higher education institutions in UK colleges is not currently collated with detailed statistics (except for Wales). We publish the total number of university students, but we do not have detailed information about them, for example, we lack details about their personal characteristics, as well as their levels and subjects of study.
To fill the data gaps, HESA intends to acquire, process and integrate data from existing administrative FE data collections in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. We intend to incorporate this into our analysis based on comparisons with other student data from our own collections. We intend to obtain the following external data sets directly from data collectors:
- In England, the Individualized Learner Record (ILR), compiled by ESFA, and the associated dataset, the Learning Aim Reference Service (LARS)
- Northern Ireland Consolidated Data Return (CDR)
- Further Education Statistics Scotland (FES)
HESA is in negotiations with the relevant government authorities and is currently in the process of submitting applications for the above datasets.
Our initial goals include regular updates on the project’s progress through 2022, leading to the publication of data at a national level, modeled on existing Student statistical bulletin. We intend to publish these data as pilot statistics after the HESA student results are published in 2023. We then aim to expand the scope of the pilot results to reflect the provider-level detail available in our current Student open data product. Ultimately, before the experimental status is lifted, we aim to bring HESA and College HE data together into a single, integrated publication.
This work will provide significant public benefit by producing and making available a single consistent, comparable, detailed source of information on all higher education students across the UK. For example:
- We hope that prospective students will find this information helpful as they navigate their application and admissions process. Access to this information should enable them to make informed choices about their further studies.
- Colleges will benefit from having this data to assess how their provision compares with the sector. This information can be useful in identifying areas that need improvement.
- We expect that our publishing mechanisms will eventually enable higher education providers and their students to benefit from existing third-party services and products.
- Having complete data on university students can help employers in the recruitment process. For example, it can help them target specific colleges whose students have the right qualifications and skills.
- Having access to complete data will also allow researchers working in the field to answer research questions that may have been too difficult to answer in the past and allow more attention to be given to the field.
- This project provides an opportunity to reduce the burden on providers and regulators. This would reduce the need for funders and regulators to produce descriptive analyzes of their overall higher education population and potentially reduce data collection requirements and information requests for higher education providers in colleges.
- Finally, a comprehensive UK-wide view of HE performance will provide a strong evidence base for national and local policy development and decision-making.
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