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HESA’s vision for college HE data

HESA’s vision for college HE data

Our plan to ingest and process HE-in-FE data.

2022 marks the start of the college HE project. The vision for this project is to ingest higher education (HE) in further education (FE) data from across the UK into HESA records with the aim of having all UK HE data in one place.

We use the term ‘college HE’ to refer to student enrolments on HE courses in FE settings. At the present time, each devolved administration in the UK collects its own college HE dataset using different data definitions and standards. Having multiple administrative datasets, which are quite different from each other, makes it difficult for users to assemble and produce information about the whole UK HE student population. The Office for Statistics Regulation has identified this as a gap in  consistent and integrated data so at HESA we have made it our objective to make this data available.

Identifying needs for college HE data

Detailed data on the HE taking place in universities, on a UK-wide basis, is available and easily accessible to all from HESA. However, the same cannot be said about the HE delivered by FE providers. With different government data collectors publishing reports on college HE within each UK home nation, franchising arrangements are not easily visible, and no organisation is currently integrating all these sources into one large dataset. Consequently, even though FE providers are long-standing providers of HE, relatively little is known about them as HE providers. As a result, they are often left out of discussions about HE provision. However, Wales is an exception as HESA collects data on Welsh FE institutions. These providers are currently HESA subscribers meaning that we collect data from them directly. The college HE data in Wales is fully integrated with our HE student data and is included in our UK-wide publications.

More recently, we have seen a shift in education policy focus. There is evidence, across all UK nations, of a move towards tertiary education which considers both FE and HE sectors together as part of a single education system. This shift in the HE policy environment reaffirms the importance of having coherent and comparable college HE data to improve our understanding of the sector.

This project aligns with our strategic aims at HESA. One of our missions is to enhance the range, depth and timeliness of published data. To achieve this we work collaboratively with the UK administrations, education departments and regulators to improve the coherence of higher education statistics across the UK. We now want to create greater value for users through combining or contextualising HESA data with data from other sources.

Gaps in the data 

Welsh FE providers are currently HESA subscribers meaning that we collect data from them directly. This data is fully integrated with our HE student data and is included in our publications. HESA also collects some limited FE data within England and Northern Ireland which is used to operate the Graduate Outcomes survey and analyse its results. Additionally, we collect student data on collaborative and franchised provision in FE colleges across the UK. We also publish some data on planned course provision including HE delivered in colleges in the Unistats dataset.

Although we have access to some data on FE providers, there remain substantial gaps in the provision of college HE statistics. In the first instance, we intend to address the gaps related to UK-wide student data, specifically the lack of detailed information about students in college HE. From our discussions with stakeholders and potential users, it became clear that this was an area of high priority.

The most recent HESA student publication (HESA, 2022) shows that there are 161,820 students enrolled on HE courses in FE colleges, in the UK. This figure comes from the funders and regulators of FE in each UK administration. This basic enumeration of the totality of HE study across the UK FE colleges is not currently matched with detailed statistics (except in Wales). We publish overall headcounts of college HE students, but lack detailed information about them, for example, we are missing details about their personal characteristics, and levels and subjects of study.

Our approach

To fill the gaps in the data, HESA intends to ingest, process, and integrate data drawn from existing administrative FE data collections in England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. We intend to include this in our analyses on a comparable basis with other student data from our own collections. We intend to ingest the following external datasets directly from the data collectors:

  • In England, the Individualised Learner Record (ILR) collected by the ESFA, and its counterpart dataset, the Learning Aim Reference Service (LARS)
  • In Northern Ireland, the Consolidated Data Return (CDR)
  • In Scotland, the Further Education Statistics record (FES)

HESA has been in talks with the relevant government bodies and is now in the process of making applications for the above datasets.

Our initial objectives include communicating project progress regularly during 2022, leading to the publication of national level data modelled on the existing Student Statistical Bulletin. We intend to release this data as experimental statistics following the publication of the HESA student outputs in 2023. We then aim to expand the scope of the experimental output to reflect the provider-level detail available in our current Student Open Data product. Eventually, pending the removal of experimental status, we aim to integrate HESA and college HE data together into a single integrated publication.


This work will create substantial public benefit by curating and making available a single consistent, comparable, detailed source of information about all students in HE on a UK-wide basis. For example:

  • We anticipate that prospective students will find this information useful while they are navigating the HE application and admissions process. Having access to this information should enable them to make informed choices regarding their further studies.
  • Colleges will find it helpful to have this data to evaluate how their provision compares to the sector. This information can be beneficial in identifying areas that need improvement.  
  • We expect that our publication arrangements will eventually enable college HE providers and their students to benefit from existing third-party data services and products.
  • Having complete data on college HE students can assist employers with their recruitment process. For example, it may help them to target certain colleges whose students have the qualifications and skillsets they are looking for.
  • Having access to complete data will also enable researchers working in this field to answer research questions that may have been too difficult to answer in the past and enable greater attention to be applied to this field.
  • This project offers opportunities to reduce burden on providers and regulators. It would reduce the need for funders and regulators to produce descriptive analyses of their total HE populations, and potentially reduce data collection requirements and information requests for college HE providers.
  • Lastly, having a complete UK-wide view of HE activity will provide a robust evidence base for national and local policy development and decision making.

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