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Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education record 2016/17

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Instructions for undertaking DLHE

Version 1.0 Produced 2017-03-02

This document provides practical guidance and mandatory instructions on how to undertake the survey.

This content is likely to change from one collection to another and should therefore be read in full prior to undertaking the survey. The guidance and instructions set out below will assist HE providers in achieving accurate responses from HE leavers in accordance to HESA guidelines. It should be used in conjunction with the Data collection schedule.

Contents: Background | When is the DLHE survey undertaken? | How is the DLHE survey undertaken? | Data protection | Multiple responses | Explicit refusals | Response rates | Survey accessibility | Audit trail, record keeping and monitoring | Longitudinal follow-up | Fair practice | Publication of DLHE data


The HESA Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) record has been collected from 1994/95 onwards from constituent HE providers in the devolved administrations of the United Kingdom and prior to 2002/03, was known as the First Destinations Supplement.

The DLHE record is collected in respect of successful HE leavers of the reporting HE provider approximately six months after their completion of study. The data submitted in the record is obtained through a survey instrument, centrally defined by HESA and locally managed by HE providers. Full details of the coverage of this record can be found in the Coverage of the record.

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 as part of the January survey. Therefore, the whole survey spans two HESA reporting periods. The dates chosen aim to provide a picture of graduate activity approximately six months after completion.

Although there are two census 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. This Schedule outlines the timescales of the processes.

There is a contact period for each survey which sets out when HE providers are permitted to contact HE leavers. The contact period for the April survey ordinarily runs for 10 weeks and commonly consists mainly of HE leavers who studied at postgraduate level. 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 HE leavers as they will receive their questionnaire on or after the census date.

The contact period for the January survey lasts longer as this captures responses from mainly undergraduates and therefore generally represents the HE provider's largest population. The contact period starts in November, ahead of the census date and so the questions are in future tense. This is because it is acknowledged that many HE leavers return to their family home for Christmas and so it is an ideal opportunity to contact them at what may be the last known address provided by them. The contact period runs through to the beginning of March.

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

How is the DLHE survey undertaken?

The survey is undertaken by HE leavers answering a number of questions by way of a questionnaire. The methods in which the responses to the questionnaire can be obtained are:

  • Standard questionnaire.
  • Telephone survey: HE leaver.
  • Telephone survey: third party.
  • Electronic reply (email/web).
  • HE provider's student record.
  • HE provider third party.

Higher education providers can use as many of these methods of contact as they wish in order to achieve the highest number of responses possible. It is expected should initial contact fail to result in a response from the HE leaver that the provider carries out further contact in which it is suggested that an alternative method is used. For example, a HE provider might wish to start with telephoning and then send a link to the online version to all those who they have not been able to contact by telephone. If continued attempts to contact the HE leaver directly fail to result in a response HE providers may use their own student record (system) or staff member (HE provider third party) to obtain a response.

Method of contacting HE leavers - telephone surveying

HE providers should use the template multi-purpose Questionnaires for recording HE leaver's responses to the questions. The questionnaire can be used in one of two ways using this method, either directly supplying to the HE leaver (e.g. at HE leaver's ceremonies', visits to the careers office) or via the more common method of telephone. Dependent on how the response is obtained there is specific Data protection guidance that must be adhered to.

HE providers should ask all HE leavers all questions relevant to the HE leaver and their activities, however there are questions designated 'Required for valid response' in the DLHE record coding manual which are required to be answered in order for a response to be accepted. Incomplete responses will fail HESA validation. Should the response be obtained by telephone it is permissible to accept answers from a third party as long as they are a credible data source i.e. they are certain of the details relating to the census date. Examples of third parties might be parents, partners, housemates etc. When speaking to a third party there is a specific subset of questions which should be asked. This is because the questions were designed to be asked directly of the HE leaver.

If the response is obtained by telephone, the caller should indicate in the box at the top of the questionnaire the dates when attempts to contact the HE leaver by telephone were made and also the method through which the response was captured, which is Student.STATUS. Valid entry 02 'Telephone survey: HE leaver' should be used when the caller is speaking to the HE leaver, valid entry 03 'Telephone survey: third party' should be ticked if talking to a third party and valid entry 07 'Deceased' if the caller finds out that the HE leaver is deceased. Valid entries 05 'HEP's student record' and 06 'HEP third party' are also included in the box so that HE providers, if they wish to do so, can record if the response was from its own Student record or a third party at the HE provider, respectively. If the response was obtained directly from the HE leaver it valid entry 01 'Standard questionnaire' should be used. Whilst considered one of the least successful methods, it is permitted to send the questionnaire directly to the HE leaver via post as long as the HE provider ensures that pre-paid postage is provided and data protection is followed. We would discourage HE providers from using this method due to its diminishing success rates and the requirement to follow up with the HE leaver any ineligible and incomplete responses.

Some Telephone surveys good practice has been produced in order to help HE providers get the most from HE leavers when speaking with them on the telephone as part of the DLHE Survey.

HE providers' own or sponsored questions may be used when speaking with a HE leaver on the telephone but HE providers 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 be asked at the end of the telephone call, after HE providers have ensured that they have obtained sufficient information (at least supplying answers to questions designated 'Required for valid response' in the DLHE record coding manual) to provide a valid DLHE return.

Speaking to a third party on the telephone

Where a telephone call is made, obtaining the response directly from the HE leaver is desirable. If contact is made with someone other than the HE leaver, this is acceptable, provided that the contact is sufficiently well informed to be able to answer questions about both the HE leaver's employment and further study circumstances. 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 DLHE record coding manual) AND
  • Must be confident that it relates to the HE leaver's position on the census date.

Please note also that for any records where information has been provided by a third party the HE leaver should be excluded from any follow-up longitudinal survey. Therefore, third parties should not be asked to indicate whether or not the HE leaver on whose'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 HE leavers and HE providers have come to rely on this contact to boost responses. However, obtaining a response from a third party should always be a 'last resort' of direct contact. This is because the aim is to obtain as much information as possible from a reliable source i.e. the HE leaver themselves. A third party will not be able to answer all of the questions reliably, hence having a reduced set of questions to be asked when speaking with a third party.

Method of contacting HE leavers - DLHE Online Survey

HESA supplies HE providers with an online version of the questionnaire hosted by BOS which HE providers are encouraged to use in advance of other methods as this represents the most cost efficient method. HE providers are then able to send an email link to the online questionnaire directly to the graduate, which will then direct them to the web address of the survey. It is fundamental in order to utilise this method that HE leavers contact details are kept up to date before they leave the HE provider. If a HE provider wishes to offer its HE 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 DLHE record coding manual. The centrally-hosted DLHE Online Survey is available at HE leavers should be directed to the web-reference and can then follow the instructions and submit their questionnaire. A Welsh version of the online questionnaire is also available for HE providers in Wales. HE providers 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.

Further information may be found in the DLHE BOS online survey user guide.

Please note it is compulsory to survey all non-EU international HE leavers electronically.

Use of the DLHE Online Survey for inputting responses

HE providers 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. HE providers will need to have registered to the system in order to use it for this purpose. HESA will provide a survey template which can be used for recording telephone responses, however this has minimal validation. Please note that if used for telephone responses, those from third parties will not meet validation and therefore these will need to be recorded separately. In addition, the method (Student.STATUS) will need to be altered to reflect the true source (i.e. Standard questionnaire or Telephone survey: HE leaver).

Method of contacting HE leavers - locally hosted online survey

HE providers may host their own online version of the questionnaire. However, HE providers must ensure that the content reflects that of the HESA questionnaire. Student.STATUS valid entry 04 'Electronic reply (email/web)' should be used in such cases.

Method of contacting HE leavers - HE provider third party and HE providers own Student record

Information obtained from other informed sources, including academic departments, Student record systems 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 DLHE record coding manual) AND
  • Must be confident that it relates to the HE leaver's position on the census date.

Information from other informed sources should only be used where the HE provider has repeatedly tried to make contact with the HE leaver directly, using the other methods of contact available, but without success. HESA monitors the use of HE provider third party and HE provider's own Student record and will query where the HE provider has response rates of 10% or more via each of these methods.

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

Data protection

Before data collection

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 HE provider. This tells the HE leaver 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.

During data collection

HESA has produced Text for covering letters and emails that should accompany all versions of the questionnaire. These covering letters and emails:

  • Tells the HE leaver that they will be contacted again if they don't reply.
  • Informs the HE leaver that data may be collected from a third party if they can't be contacted themselves.
  • Gives the HE 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.
  • Describes the uses made of the data by HESA and its Statutory Customers.

The covering letter and email text are available in both English and Welsh. The covering letter should be printed onto the HE provider's own letter headed stationery and should be provided to the HE leavers that are presented with a DLHE questionnaire. It is also a requirement to include the covering letter should the HE provider wish to inform the HE leaver about the online survey via the post. The text for email contact should be used for sending a web link to either the centrally-hosted version or HE provider's own version of the online survey. All covering letters and email texts with instructions for their use can be downloaded from the DLHE record coding manual.

The Text for covering letters and emails should NOT be changed apart from where it is indicated either in italics or where there is an instruction. HE providers should particularly note the instruction to insert their own data protection collection notice (See Data protection guidance). HE providers can add to the introductory text in order to address particular groups of HE leavers. For example, for students who have continued to study at the HE provider the following text may be used:

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

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

During the survey HE providers should use only the contact details provided by the HE leaver (except where given by a third party, when the details should be used as described below). Ensure to take notice of any objections the HE leaver has to being contacted and in turn either not collect, or delete, information from any HE leaver who does not wish their destinations data to be held by the HE provider.

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

  • They should ask that the third party informs the data subject (HE leaver) that data (survey responses) have been collected. The interviewer (telephonist) should also indicate that they can contact the HE provider for more information or with any concerns they might have.
  • If the third party gives an interviewer a contact telephone number for the HE leaver, this should be used, providing the interviewer states where the number has come from and gives the HE 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 HE leaver gives their permission.

If the HE provider initiates contact via telephone it is not possible to convey all of the information contained within the covering letter or email text. Instead where a telephone call is made the caller needs to explain by way of introduction that:

  • They are phoning on behalf of the HE provider to find out if the HE leaver has found employment and/or undertaken further study following completion of their course.
  • Information is used both to advise current and future 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 HE provider and coded information will be sent to the HESA. Further details and contact information are supplied as part of the covering letter.
  • 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 on behalf of HESA and so their details may be passed on to this third party.
  • They need to find out what the HE leaver was doing on the census date.

HE providers should also be able to explain to the HE leaver how they can access the data protection notice.

Further information about informing students

HE providers cannot guarantee HE 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 HE providers follow the above procedures, there should be no further need for concern.

Further information about data protection issues

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

Repeated contact of HE leavers

Specifically for the January survey (only), HE providers that make contact with a HE leaver via telephone before the census date should record the activities as confirmed by the HE leaver and no further contact should be made. This includes where the HE leaver confirms themselves to be unemployed and in this situation HE providers should not offer to re-contact or make re-contact on or after the census date. In the case that a HE leaver confirms they do not know what they will be doing on the January census date then HE providers are permitted to make further contact (either on or after the census date). It is courteous to ensure that the HE leaver is content to be re-contacted after the census date and is best practice to offer careers services if appropriate.

If a HE 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 and direct).

Multiple responses

If more than one response is received HE providers 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. HE providers should not actively seek further responses once a response is received.

Explicit refusals

An explicit refusal is where a HE 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 HE leaver verbally states that they do not wish to be included in the survey. HE providers may experience telephone hang-ups, in this circumstance providers should use their professional judgement to decide whether this is an explicit refusal (or technical, call failure). A HE 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. HE leavers with DLHE records identified as STATUS = 08 'Reply received explicitly refusing to provide information' will be counted towards a HE provider's response rate. HESA monitor the percentage of HE providers' explicit refusals and will query this if it reaches over 5%. To limit the number of explicit refusals HE providers should consider student engagement in their final year and promotional activities.

Response rates

In order to provide best possible statistics about the sector, HE providers are required to meet specific target response rates for the DLHE Survey. All HE providers 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) HE leavers who previously studied full-time.
  • 70% for UK-domiciled HE leavers who studied part-time.
  • 80% for Research Council-funded students.
  • 50% for all other EU HE leavers.
  • 20% for non-EU international HE leavers (It is compulsory to survey all non-EU international HE leavers electronically).

The response rates for the DLHE survey are set to ensure that the data is suitable for publication and that the results of the survey genuinely reflect the outcomes for students leaving HE providers. Therefore, while response rates are set at the HE provider level, HE providers 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 HE provider's average. HE providers must ensure that a record is returned for every HE leaver where it has sufficient information to be able to make a valid return.

Survey accessibility

HE leavers with visual impairments, hearing impairments or other disabilities that may restrict them from completing the questionnaire should be contacted in the most suitable way i.e. a large print version should be provided or priority telephone contact made. If you are unsure which method to use or require any further guidance please contact Institutional Liaison.

Audit trail, record keeping and monitoring

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

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

Questionnaire (telephone): the person conducting the telephone survey should sign and date the 'Your signature' box and 'Date' box.

Online questionnaire (centrally-hosted version): HE providers should keep a copy of the files downloaded from the BOS survey system.

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

Other informed source: procedural evidence to demonstrate that the data:

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

HE providers should keep either a hard copy or electronic version of the questionnaire for each individual HE 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. Any ad-hoc notes captured alongside the responses to the questionnaire should be kept and stored in the same way.

Longitudinal follow-up

Currently a longitudinal follow-up to the DLHE survey takes place three years after the initial DLHE survey. The population consists of HESA early DLHE leavers on a bi-annual basis. The questionnaire will be tailored to capture whether HE leavers wish to opt out during applicable years. It is possible that the timing or frequency of longitudinal follow-up may change in future either for all students or for specific subsets, HE providers should therefore avoid making definitive statements about the nature of longitudinal follow-up but may make reference to the current practice as indicative of likely future follow-up.

Responses confirmed as either third party or explicit refusals are excluded from longitudinal follow-up. All other responses should capture whether the HE leaver wishes to opt out of longitudinal follow-up. HE providers are responsible for recording, storing and maintaining this information. Therefore at any point between the early DLHE and the longitudinal follow-up should a HE leaver indicate they want to opt out the HE provider is responsible for updating the HE leaver's contact status. It is good practise that this information should be accessible to colleagues in Alumni, Careers Service etc., as there will be more than one point of contact at a HE provider for the HE leaver. This information will then be readily available for HE providers to refer to when the sample selection is drawn, and these HE leavers can be excluded. Whilst HESA optionally provide longitudinal DLHE opt out as an additional data item in the record it remains the HE providers' responsibility to extract this information and then keep it up to date.

Fair practice

It is the HE providers' responsibility to ensure that the collection and recording of DLHE responses is done in a fair and consistent way, whilst ensuring that the best interests of the HE leaver are factored into every decision and action. It is not possible to provide guidance and instructions on all aspects of both collection and submission. Instead HE providers should be able to evidence, if required, that DLHE has been undertaken both fairly and consistently. The HE provider is not permitted to discard any HE leaver's responses and any information provided by a HE leaver should in turn be submitted to HESA without alteration. If a HE provider is in any doubt about any aspects of its practises or processes then they should contact HESA for further guidance.

Publication of DLHE data

While a HE provider should obtain good data about its own alumni from participating in DLHE, the full DLHE is used as the basis for Official and National Statistics outputs from The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and the full data set is therefore subject to Official Statistics restrictions. Most notably these restrictions relate to the publication by HESA of a Statistical First Release in June/July each year. This is intended to provide the first public summary of data from each DLHE survey, and no DLHE data that might allow a third party to pre-empt the Statistical First Release contents may be made available. The time period between closure of the DLHE collection and publication of the Statistical First Release is required to enable HESA to work with statutory bodies to undertake all the processes required in preparing the release.

HESA recognises that HE providers have legitimate applications for the destinations data they collect from their own graduates and HE leavers which sometimes necessitate releases to third parties in advance of publication of the Statistical First Release. HESA does not impose restrictions that would impede HE providers' ability to use data for such purposes but HE providers should consider carefully whether early release is required for any given purpose. One-off releases in response to requests by official bodies are likely to be low-risk in terms of compliance with Official Statistics protocols whereas wholesale publication of DLHE data by large numbers of HE providers (such as in response to a mass-request from the Press) is likely to generate conflict with Official Statistics protocols and could lead to the imposition of tighter controls. In order to avoid the need for tighter controls HE providers should limit publication of DLHE data in advance of publication of the Statistical First Release wherever possible.

If a HE provider feels it is absolutely necessary to publish its own data prior to the Statistical First Release publication date, then it must take full responsibility for publication. This means not using any HESA-linked logos or implying that this is HESA data or part of an Official Statistics product, either directly or indirectly by using terms like Statistical First Release or by providing HESA's contact details.

Need help?

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