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Defining a new approach to recording FTE

During the 2019/20 (Data Futures) specification consultation, we put out a proposal for how the full-time equivalence (FTE) for a student could be recorded. Based on feedback we received, we have since been looking at better ways for this to be returned. 

Statutory Customers require FTE to allow for a comparable measure of activity throughout the sector in the UK. Developing a common approach has proved difficult in order to meet the requirements. The requirements are:

  • Consistency within time series and across nations while moving from the current collection to Data Futures.
  • Leveraging the timeliness of Data Futures.
  • Reasonable burden on the sector.
  • The FTE has a level of accuracy acceptable to Statutory Customers.

Original proposal in 2019/20 consultation

There were three proposed methods to record FTE:

  1. Providers in England and Wales return FTE as per the consultation proposal.
  2. Providers in Northern Ireland return a predicted FTE against the Student course session and then a final figure in the current STULOAD field.
  3. Providers in Scotland should continue as before and only return STULOAD at the end of the Student course session.

Since then we have been holding meetings with HE providers, OfS and HEFCW to discuss the problems involved and to come up with another proposal. Minutes from these meetings are available for reference:

Download minutes from FTE conference call 16 November 2018

Download minutes from FTE conference call 15 January 2019

Updated proposal

We have now come up with an updated proposal and associated approaches. This gives providers in England and Wales several options when submitting FTE data, and makes it clearer how every country fits in. 

A summary of the approaches is as below: 

  1. STULOAD at the end of the Student course session: envisages the collection of FTE at the end of the Course session once all activity is complete.
  2. Planned FTE updated at each reference point: envisages providers returning the FTE the student plans to undertake in that Course session and updating it as necessary. Analysis could be undertaken by considering the planned FTE across a cohort at a census date, or an assumption of consistent intensity made to allow for the FTE to be calculated for activity from one date to another (e.g. the old HESA reporting period). In the final reference period of the Student course session this would likely be equivalent to STULOAD. 
  3. Reference period FTE: envisages the collection of an FTE value within a reference period for the Student course session. Providers would be able to return up to 4 reference period FTEs for each Student course session. 
  4. Derive the FTE value: envisages that the FTE figure will be calculated based on either the student’s Module data or using the planned FTE value. 

The listed benefits and limitations for each of the above approaches is also available to download: 

Download FTE new approach (supporting information)


Hybrid approach

Based on the limitations of any single option, we propose a hybrid combination of all three approaches. We expect this would provide the following: 

  • If a provider returns a reference period FTE, this will be used to calculate the FTE within the reference period (i.e. derived reference period FTE = reference period FTE).
  • If a provider returns a planned FTE, this will be used to calculate a reference period FTE (derived reference period FTE = planned FTE multiplied by the proportion of the Course session in the reference period). It is anticipated this will converge with end of Course session FTE (or when the Student course session is ended STULOAD is returned). As the reference period FTE calculated is based on the previous reference period, and there is an expectation planned FTE will be updated as necessary, this is unlikely to result in significant error (although mitigation is mentioned below).
  • If a provider chooses not to return the above, the reference period FTE will be calculated from Module data. (If a provider does not return Module data, they must return an FTE of some sort).

There is a chance the different methodologies could result in different FTEs. 

To be clear, if a combination of methods was used, the hierarchy of the different methods would be as follows. 

  1. Reference period FTE.
  2. Planned FTE.
  3. Derived field FTE (which is calculated per reference period). 

Providers can choose which approach they take for each Student course session to best meet their needs. It would be fine, and indeed expected, to combine different methodologies within a single return. This approach ensures:

  • Time series can be maintained.
  • Timeliness is leveraged.
  • Burden is decreased on providers.
  • Providers are given as much flexibility as possible to allow the data collection to align to business processes.
  • We anticipate the effects will be small enough to be acceptable to Statutory Customers. 

FTE will be calculated from Module information regardless and used in validation. Additional validation (and a possible trigger for audit) will also be required to compare the initial planned FTE to the end of Course session FTE. 

Implications across the regions

  • Providers in Northern Ireland will continue with their current requirement, to return data in the predicted FTE field. However, the derived field will also be calculated for providers in Northern Ireland. 
  • For clarity, providers in Scotland will continue with their current requirement, to return data in the STULOAD field only. 

Other impacts

The ModuleInstance.MIPROPORTION field is no longer needed for the calculation of the derived FTE, so we will remove it from the coverage for providers in Wales and Scotland. Providers in England and Northern Ireland will still need to return this data, as it is required in order to return cost centre proportions.  


Rachel Wilkes

Collections Development Manager