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Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education record 2013/14

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Guidance for HEPs

Version 1.1 Produced 2015-02-27

This document provides practical guidance on how to undertake the survey and how to achieve accurate responses from leavers. It should be used in conjunction with DLHE Timescales.

1. Background

The Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) record collects information about the activities of leavers six months after they completed their HE qualification. DLHE is undertaken on an annual basis through surveys and a data collection process.

2. When is the DLHE survey undertaken?

DLHE consists of two survey periods relating to two different census dates - one in April and one in January. The two census dates reflect the two main course completion times for students; those who finish between 1 August and 31 December will be surveyed during the following April, whereas those who complete their courses between 1 January and 31 July will be surveyed the following January. Therefore, the whole survey spans two reporting periods. The dates chosen are nominal and aim to provide a picture of graduate activity approximately six months after completion.

Although there are two data capture reference dates, there is only one data collection, the return date for which is 31 March. Therefore, it is imperative that the completed questionnaires are stored safely until the data needs to be returned to HESA in March. This Schedule outlines the timescales of the processes.

The field work period, that is, when data can be captured from leavers, is approximately three months for both the April and January surveys. For the April survey the field work commences on the census date and closes in June. The questions are in the past tense for these leavers as they will receive their questionnaire on or after the census date.

For the January survey most of the field work takes place ahead of the census date and so the questions are in future tense. This is because it is acknowledged that many leavers return to their parents for Christmas and so it is an ideal opportunity to contact them at what may be the last known address provided by them. The field work runs through to the beginning of March.

The data for both surveys is returned to HESA once a year by the end of March.

3. How is the DLHE survey undertaken?

The survey is undertaken by leavers answering a number of questions by way of a questionnaire, a telephone survey, a centrally-hosted online survey, a locally-hosted survey or a PDF version of the questionnaire. Higher education providers (HEPs) can use as many of these methods of contact as they wish in order to achieve the highest response possible.

HESA provides paper questionnaires for sending out by post to leavers or for using when conducting a telephone survey with a leaver. HESA also hosts an online version of the questionnaire and HEPs can email out a link to this to any leaver for whom they have an email address. A PDF version of the paper questionnaire is also provided should HEPs wish to email this version for leavers to print and return.

HEPs can use any of these versions for initial contact or for follow-up contact (should they not hear from the leaver after a first attempt at contacting them). The methodology rules are not rigid; HEPs can choose their own methodology sequence using as many of the contact methods as they like. Each HEP can choose the sequence of contact which they consider to be the most effective for achieving a good level of response from their leavers. For example, a HEP might wish to start with telephoning and then send postal questionnaires or a link to the online version to all those who they have not been able to contact by telephone.

HEPs are required to survey all leavers in the DLHE population and all the responses received that meet the minimum data requirements must be returned to HESA.

3.1. Printed questionnaires

The paper questionnaire is available in an A3 flat sheet, or folded into A4 or A5. Paper copies of the questionnaire will be delivered to HEPs during March for the April survey and September for the January survey. HEPs in Wales are offered questionnaires in Welsh for use with their leavers.

3.1.1. Obtaining your printed questionnaires for postal mailing and telephone surveying

DLHE record contacts are contacted by email in January (for the April survey) and July (for the January survey) and asked to confirm HESA's estimate of their HEP's April and January POPDLHE, respectively. This is mainly to ascertain how many printed questionnaires are required by each HEP. HEPs should consider how they intend to survey their leavers prior to HESA contacting them so that sufficient paper questionnaires can be provided. The printed questionnaire is used for sending to leavers through the post and for conducting telephone surveys.

Also, as part of this email, the Institutional Liaison team will ask for the name, address, telephone number and job title of two people at the HEP to whom the DLHE questionnaires should be addressed. This does not have to be the DLHE contact but can be whoever is deemed most appropriate. The distributor will attempt delivery to the first recipient and, if unsuccessful, a second delivery attempt can be made to the back up recipient.

Not supplying responses to these questions will adversely affect the smooth running of the DLHE process. If a HEP does not provide addressee details for each survey, the distributor will either deliver to the address HESA provide (this will be of the last known DLHE contact as stored on the HESA system) or take the consignment back to the depot. Both situations can cause delays, which impact on the time HEPs have to prepare for mailing. This also poses unnecessary administrative burdens on the printers, on HESA and on HEPs, in trying to trace a missing consignment and/or arrange for re-delivery.

It is important that contacts in HEPs inform their colleagues, e.g. security staff (or anyone else who may be likely to be in receipt of the delivery) that delivery of questionnaires is expected. Institutional Liaison will email DLHE contacts close to the delivery date to inform them between which dates delivery can be expected (this will usually be no longer than during a period of five working days). If boxes of questionnaires are accurately addressed, and HEPs expect the delivery, consignments should be received within this stated delivery period.

If a HEP's DLHE survey is administered by another HEP/organisation, and the questionnaires need to be delivered there, please provide the full mail address of this HEP/organisation. In such cases the address label will include both a named 'care-of' contact and the address of the HEP/organisation where the survey is administered and also the name of the HEP contact for reference. The back up contact details given should also be someone from the administering HEP/organisation, so that a second attempt at delivery can be made.

The consignment will be clearly labelled - indicating the total number of boxes making up the delivery, and also the contents of each box, e.g. 1000 English questionnaires. It is important that a HEP checks the consignment on delivery, as shortfalls cannot be rectified later.

HESA stock only a very small number of questionnaires as contingency. This would be sufficient to provide to a HEP in the event of a minor and unforeseen circumstance, should part of their own stock become unsuitable for mailing, e.g. if mailing equipment malfunctions and questionnaires are lost as a consequence. HESA does not store sufficient numbers to replace part of or an entire single HEP's consignment. It is therefore imperative that HEPs check the POPDLHE estimates provided by HESA and either; confirm that these are correct, or provides accurate revised estimates.

3.2. Method of contacting leavers i - sending a printed questionnaire by post

HEPs can send a printed questionnaire to leavers for whom they have a postal address. Information about the survey communicated in a covering letter (see 3.9) should always be included in the envelope.

3.3. Method of contacting leavers ii - telephone surveying

HEPs should use the paper questionnaire for recording leavers' responses to the questions. Where a telephone call is made the caller needs to explain by way of introduction that:

  • They are phoning on behalf of the HEP to find out if the former student has found employment and/or further study following completion of their course.
  • Information is used both to advise current students about opportunities and also to feed into a national statistical survey conducted each year to see what happens to students upon leaving higher education.
  • The information on this form will be used by your HEP and coded information will be sent to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Further details and contact information are supplied as part of the covering letter (see 3.9).
  • They may, if consent is given, be contacted again in the future as part of a follow-up survey. This survey will be conducted by a third party and so their details may be passed on to this third party.
  • They need to find out what the former student was doing on the census date.

Obtaining answers to all relevant questions is the preference, however there are questions designated 'Required for valid response' in the coding manual which should be answered in order for a response to be counted.

The caller should indicate in the box at the top right of the questionnaire the dates when attempts to contact the leaver by telephone were made and also the source of the data. Code (02) should be ticked if the caller is speaking to the leaver, code (03) should be ticked if talking to a third party and code (07) should be ticked if the caller finds out that the leaver is deceased. Codes 05 and 06 are also included in the box so that HEPs, if they wish to do so, can record if the response was from its own student record or a third party at the HEP, respectively.

Some Good practice when conducting telephone surveys (PDF) has been produced in order to help HEPs get the most from leavers when speaking with them on the telephone as part of the DLHE Survey.

HEPs' own or sponsored questions may be used when speaking with a leaver on the telephone but HEPs will need to be conscious of the requirement to obtain the best possible response to the survey and to meet the response rate targets. The sponsored questions should perhaps be asked at the end of the telephone call, after HEPs have ensured that they have obtained sufficient information (at least supplying answers to questions designated 'Required for valid response' in the coding manual) to provide a valid DLHE return.

3.3.1. Speaking to a third party on the telephone

Where a telephone call is made, obtaining the response directly from the leaver is desirable. If contact is made with someone other than the leaver, this is acceptable, provided that the contact is sufficiently well informed to be able to answer questions about the leaver's employment and further study circumstances questions. It is not so much the source of information that is important as the quality of the information itself. However, care must be taken when obtaining information from such third parties (see Data protection guidance).

In determining whether or not information is robust enough for inclusion in the DLHE return, the contact must be able to:

  • Supply all the relevant information (i.e. supplying answers to questions designated 'To be asked of third party' in the coding manual) AND
  • Must be confident that it relates to the leaver's position on the census date.

Please note also that for any records where information has been provided by a third party the leaver should be excluded from the longitudinal follow-up. Therefore, third parties should not be asked to indicate whether or not the leaver on who's behalf they are responding would be content to be contacted again in the future as part of a follow-up survey.

It is acknowledged that third party response continues to be a valuable method of obtaining data about leavers and HEPs have come to rely on this contact to boost responses. However, obtaining a response from a third party should always be a 'last resort'. This is because the aim is to obtain as much information as possible from a reliable source i.e. the leaver themselves. A third party will not be able to answer all of the questions reliably, hence needing to identify a reduced set of questions to be asked when speaking with a third party.

3.4. Method of contacting leavers iii - DLHE Online Survey

Further information may be found in the document 'Online DLHE guidance notes'.

A web-based DLHE questionnaire is also on offer and which is centrally-hosted by HESA. If a HEP wishes to offer its leavers this method of taking part in the DLHE Survey then it will need to have completed the registration exercise prior to the data capture period. Details about how to register are available in the coding manual.

The centrally-hosted DLHE Online Survey is available at Leavers should be directed to this web-reference and can then follow the instructions and submit their questionnaire. A Welsh version of the online questionnaire is also available.

HESA encourages HEPs to make use of the centrally-hosted online questionnaire, and it hopes over time use of this version will increase.

3.4.1. Use of the DLHE Online Survey for inputting responses

HEPs may use the DLHE Online Survey system to enter and code responses that have been made on the paper questionnaire and/or through telephone interviews. HEPs will need to have registered to the system in order to use it for this purpose.

3.5. Method of contacting leavers iv - locally hosted online survey

HEPs may host their own version of the questionnaire on their website. However, HEPs must ensure that the content reflects that of the HESA questionnaire and should not add any questions to or change the questionnaire in any way.

3.6. Method of contacting leavers v - emailing a PDF version of the questionnaire

A PDF version of the questionnaire is available in both English and Welsh and can be downloaded from the coding manual. HEPs can email this version of the questionnaire to leavers for completion. Leavers should print the form in order to complete, sign, date and return it to their HEP.

As there are many ways a leaver can complete and return a questionnaire, it is possible that a HEP may receive more than one questionnaire for the same individual. In this case the HEP should return to HESA the first information it receives.

3.7. Direct contact with a leaver

If the HEP has direct contact with the leaver during the field work period e.g. they visit the careers office, the leaver can be handed a questionnaire to complete while they are there. A copy of the covering letter must be handed out with the questionnaire (see 3.9). If a HEP's graduation ceremony falls during this period then leavers can be handed a questionnaire at graduation.

3.8. Obtaining information from someone else

Information obtained from other informed sources, including academic departments or employers, is also acceptable as a method of data capture. However the contact must be able to:

  • Supply all the relevant information i.e. supplying answers to questions designated 'To be asked of third party' in the coding manual AND
  • Must be confident that it relates to the leaver's position on the census date.

Information from other informed sources should only be used where the HEP has tried to make contact with the student directly, using a number of the methods of contact available, but without success.

Note that the core questions require that the contact will know what the leaver is doing with respect to both employment and further study on the census date.

Please note also that for any records where information has been provided by a third party the leaver should be excluded from the longitudinal follow-up.

3.9. Information that should be supplied when contacting all leavers by any method

HESA has produced the text of the covering letters and emails that should accompany all versions of the questionnaire. HESA also provides instructions on how to use these texts and HEPs should refer to this guidance. The letter and email texts are available in both English and Welsh. The covering letter text should be printed onto HEPs' own letter headed stationery and this should be sent with all postal questionnaires. The text for email contact should be used for sending a web link to either the centrally-hosted version or if sending a PDF by email. All letter and email texts with instructions for their use can be downloaded from the coding manual.

The text of the letters and emails should NOT be changed apart from where it is indicated either in italics or where there is an instruction. HEPs should particularly note the instruction to insert their own data protection collection notice (See Data protection guidance).

HEPs can add to the introductory text in order to address particular groups of leavers. For example, for students who have continued to study at the HEP the following text may be used:

We are asking everyone, even those who have continued to study at the HEP, what they will be doing on [census date], so that the information is comparable.

When sending out postal questionnaires, HEPs should mail out the questionnaire, letter, and, if they use them, a reply-paid envelope. Statutory users and their auditors are also content that HEPs should be able to include other items in the survey mailing, for example, leaflets about HEPs' graduate services. It is acceptable for HEPs to include other surveys in with the DLHE questionnaire. However in deciding what might be reasonable to include in the mailing, HEPs will need to be conscious of the requirement to obtain the best possible response to the survey and to meet the response rate targets.

Similarly, the text for the email should be sent with a web link to either the centrally-hosted online questionnaire, a locally-hosted questionnaire or with a PDF version of the questionnaire attached to the email. HEPs can include web references, e.g. to their own graduate services, or to other surveys, again bearing in mind the requirement to obtain the best possible response to the DLHE Survey

3.10. Repeated contact of leavers

HEPs that have made contact with a leaver prior to the census date and the leaver knows which activity/activities they will be undertaking on the census date (including confirming that they will be unemployed), should report this data to HESA and no further contact should be made with that leaver. If a leaver does not know what they will be doing on the January census date then the HEP should try to make further contact (either on or after the census date) to get the leaver to complete the survey. It is courteous to ensure that the leaver is content to be re-contacted after the census date and is best practice to offer careers services if appropriate.

If a leaver confirms prior to the census date that they will be unemployed on the census date then they should not be re-contacted nor should they be encouraged to say instead that they do not yet know what they will be doing. This will ensure that the information collected by telephone is consistent with that received from those responding via the other survey methods (electronic, postal etc.).

4. Multiple responses

If more than one response is received HEPs should submit the latest or most complete version of a questionnaire to HESA. This guidance only relates to instances where a second response is received unsolicited. HEPs should not actively seek further responses once a response is received.

5. Explicit refusals

An explicit refusal is where a leaver either sends back the questionnaire marking it as a refusal, emails, or writes a letter including a statement that they do not wish to be included in the survey. It can result from a telephone conversation where the leaver verbally states that they do not wish to be included in the survey. A leaver who does not respond in any way, or is not contactable should not have a DLHE record returned to HESA and is not regarded as having explicitly refused. Leavers with DLHE records identified as STATUS = 08 'Reply received explicitly refusing to provide information' will be counted towards a HEP's response rate.

6. Response rates

In order to provide the sector with the best possible statistics, HEPs are required to meet specific target response rates for the DLHE Survey. All HEPs are expected to meet, or exceed, these thresholds and HESA carry out extensive data quality checks to monitor both short and long term success with this regard. The target response rates are:

  • 80% for UK-domiciled (i.e. home) leavers who previously studied full-time;
  • 70% for UK-domiciled leavers who studied part-time;
  • 80% for Research Council-funded students;
  • 50% for all other EU students;
  • See 6.1. for non-EU international leavers;

The response rates for the DLHE survey are set to ensure that detailed data can be published and that the results of the survey genuinely reflect the outcomes for students leaving HEPs. Therefore, while response rates are set at the HEP level, HEPs should seek to ensure that as far as possible the target threshold is met for all courses, and also that response rates are uniform across all student and course characteristics. In particular, specific groups of students should only be targeted for additional follow-up where response rates in previous years have been significantly lower than the HEP's average.

6.1. Surveying non-EU international leavers

It is a requirement to survey non-EU international leavers electronically (using the DLHE Online Survey is recommended). HEPs can use other methods for contacting their leavers if they wish to do so, however it is compulsory to contact all non-EU international leavers electronically. An assessment of surveying these leavers will be undertaken after two years in order to inform a decision on an appropriate target response rate.

HEPs are strongly encouraged to achieve the highest possible response rate for non-EU leavers, although the use of telephone and postal follow-up remains optional. Achieving the highest possible response rate will allow statutory customers to assess the destinations of non-EU leavers in order to inform debates on the impact of UK HE. The data will also help HEPs better understand their international study body. HEPs should note that the minimum response rate for 2013-14 is set at 20%, analysis of data from 2011-12 indicates that this level is readily achievable, notwithstanding the minimum response rate HEPs are expected to maintain or improve their response rate year on year.

7. Survey accessibility

Leavers with visual impairments or other disabilities that may restrict them from completing the paper questionnaire or an online version can complete the survey by way of a telephone interview, or by using the PDF version of the questionnaire. A leaver can print the PDF version of the questionnaire as a large print version or in a way that suits their requirements in order to complete, sign, date and return it to the HEP. The PDF version of the questionnaire can be downloaded from the coding manual.

8. Audit trail, record keeping and monitoring

All data capture methods used must result in a robust audit trail. This will consist of one of the following:

Questionnaire (printed and PDF versions): evidence comprising the completed questionnaire, signed and dated by the leaver himself or herself.

Questionnaire (centrally-hosted version): HEPs should keep a copy of the files downloaded from the HESA archive.

Telephone survey: the person conducting the telephone survey should sign and date the 'Your signature' box and 'Date' box, respectively at the end of the paper questionnaire.

Online questionnaire (locally-hosted version): evidence demonstrating that the questionnaire was completed and dated by the leaver. This might for example mean that the HEP's system is set up in such a way that a read-only copy of the data keyed by the leavers retained.

Other informed source: procedural evidence to demonstrate that the data

  • Answers the questions designated 'To be asked of third party' in the coding manual AND
  • Relates to the leaver's position on the census date.

9. Keeping DLHE data

The data should be kept only as long as is necessary. If the purpose is research then data may be kept for a long time. The completed questionnaires need not be kept beyond the time that the possibility of an audit might be carried out. HEPs should therefore keep either a hard copy or electronic version of the questionnaire for each individual leaver for three years after the data is returned to HESA. There is no need to anonymise the data. However, the data should not be used in a way that will affect the individual concerned.

10. Longitudinal follow-up

An explicit refusal at the six month DLHE stage automatically excludes the graduate from longitudinal follow-up. HEPs should however establish a central record for any graduate who indicates in Section F of the DLHE questionnaire that they do not wish to be contacted in the future as part of a follow-up survey. Also as a graduate can contact the HEP at any point between the early DLHE and the longitudinal follow-up three years later to indicate they do not want to be further involved in DLHE, this record should be accessible to a number of colleagues in Alumni, Careers Service etc., as there will be more than one point contact at a HEP for the leaver. This information will then be readily available for HEPs to refer to when the sample selection is drawn, and these leavers can be excluded.

Please note also that for any records where information has been provided by a third party the graduate should be excluded from the longitudinal follow-up.

11. Data protection

What to do before and during the DLHE surveys

Before the survey HEPs should:

  • Update each student's contact details
  • Let all students know that the DLHE will be happening and give them an opportunity to withdraw from it, for example by providing the HESA student collection notice.

During the survey HEPs should:

  • Use accurate contact details
  • Use only the contact details provided by the leaver (except where given by a third party, when the details should be used as described below)
  • Take notice of any objections the leaver has to being contacted
  • Either not collect, or delete, information from any leaver who does not wish their destinations data to be held by the HEP.

When collecting data from a third party the interviewer should be aware that:

  • They should ask that the third party informs the data subject that data has been collected. The interviewer should also indicate that they can contact the HEP for more information or with any concerns they might have
  • If the third party gives an interviewer a contact telephone number for the leaver, this may be used, providing the interviewer states where the number has come from and gives the leaver an opportunity to object to the call at the beginning of the conversation. The telephone number may only be recorded for future contact purposes outside of DLHE if the leaver gives their permission.

Objections to being contacted or providing data can be given at any time before the data is returned to HESA. Such objections must always be recorded.

Standard text, collection notices and informing students

In order for processing to be fair, data subjects should be informed about the uses made of data. A collection notice is a piece of text which fulfils these criteria.

Student collection notice

The HESA Student collection notice should be made available to all students at each HEP. This tells the students that:

  • They may be contacted for first stage DLHE
  • There is the possibility of follow up to the first stage DLHE
  • They have the opportunity to object to further contact.

DLHE questionnaire

There is a general statement on the questionnaire, referring to the covering letter for more information.

DLHE covering letter and email

The covering letter and email for the DLHE survey

  • Tells the leaver that they will be contacted again if they don't reply
  • Informs the leaver that data may be collected from a third party if they can't be contacted themselves
  • Gives the leaver an opportunity to refuse to give data or be contacted again
  • Tells them that they may be contacted for the longitudinal survey and gives them the opportunity to object.

DLHE collection notice provided by HESA

This is included at the bottom of the covering letter and email, and describes the uses made of the data by HESA and its Statutory Customers.

DLHE collection notice to be written by HEPs

Space has been allowed within the covering letter for each HEP to include their own collection notice text about the use they make of the data. HESA strongly recommends that each HEP composes suitable wording for, and includes its own collection notice in the covering letter, in order to protect the HEP's legal position.

Further information about informing students

HEPs cannot guarantee leavers read the covering letter and collection notices, but this does not necessarily cause a problem. The Data Protection Act 1998 says that information concerning what happens to personal data must be made available to the individuals concerned. Organisations must make every reasonable effort to provide this, but not so that it is disproportionate to the purposes for which the data is collected. Therefore, if HEPs follow the above procedures, there should be no further need for concern.

Further information about data protection issues

Students can obtain further information on data protection issues from the HESA website at Data protection guidance. For further information please contact the Data Protection Officer at [email protected]

Who to contact

If you have any queries about DLHE methodology, please contact the Institutional Liaison team at HESA ([email protected]).

Contact Liaison by email or on +44 (0)1242 388 531.