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Student Alternative 2020/21: Support guides

This page provides an overview of the 2020/21 Student Alternative collection (C20054).

This should be used alongside the C20054 coding manual,  which provides more detailed, technical information about the collection.

Need help? Contact us by email or on +44 (0)1242 388 531

Student Alternative overview

HESA collects data across a number of streams. These streams focus on different aspects of higher education.

The Student Alternative stream collects data about students studying at a subset of higher education providers. Historically, this collected data about students studying at private higher education providers whose students could access student loans. This now includes some higher education providers who are registered with the OfS and are not required to submit the full HESA Student return as well as providers on limited designation or teach out. Details of which students need to be returned to us are included in the Coverage document found in the coding manual.

The data we collect on behalf of the sector is provided to the government and the relevant funding council in order to support the regulation of higher education. We also make anonymised data available to the public to enhance understanding of UK higher education and to support its advancement.

Our coding manuals provide you with all the necessary documentation to support your data return. The coding manual contains technical documents giving detailed information on the record's coverage, data specification and submission formats. Familiarising yourself with these documents will help you make an accurate and timely return.

Each collection has its own coding manual which can be found in the Data collection section of our site. By default, you will land on the open collection for each record; you can then select previous or future years.

The coding manuals will be updated throughout the data collection cycle and Record Contacts informed by email when new versions are made live. Be sure to check the manual's Revision history for a summary of changes.

You submit data via our Data Collection system. To access this, you will need to have an appropriate role in our Identity System (IDS). We publish an IDS user guide which includes information on creating and editing your account.

You will need to be given access to the Data Collection system by the relevant Record Contact at your provider.

Once you have access to the system you will be able to upload files, track the progress of your submission, view data quality issues and download reports. An overview of the submission and validation process is given below. Further details are provided in the Coding manual under the 'Submission process and quality assurance' section heading.

Submit data

The coding manual homepage includes all the technical information you require, including:

  • The data specification
  • File format specifications
  • A detailed collection schedule
  • Our XML data entry tool (available for some streams)
  • Quality rules.

This Support guides page collects together the following resources:

  • User guide
  • Data collection system: Known issues and release history.

In the Support area of the HESA website, you can find:

Our Data innovation section includes information about:

  • Open and recently completed record reviews, including information about changes we are implementing
  • Our Data Futures programme which will transform the higher education information landscape.

In the About section, you can find:


Our expert analysts have a thorough understanding of our records and processes. We are here to support you throughout the data submission process. 

Contact Liaison by email or on +44 (0)1242 211144 

Find out more about Liaison

Our JISCMail groups allow you to discuss specific streams with colleagues from across the sector. We also use the lists to circulate news regarding data requirements and coding manual and validation kit releases.

Join the HESA-AP student JISCmail list

If you encounter any problems, contact Liaison

Anticipated dates for deadlines

The data collection deadlines for the Student Alternative return are being moved earlier to bring them into line with the Student return, to ensure that all providers are being treated consistently. In order to assist with this change, we will be phasing the adjustments to the deadlines over the C19054, C20054 and C21054 collections. The anticipated deadlines can be seen in the table below.


Student (C20051)

Student Alternative (C20054)


15 September

22 September


21 September

28 September

Final Commit

01 November

08 November


08 November

15 November


Student (C21051)

Student Alternative (C21054)


15 September

15 September


21 September

21 September

Final Commit

31 October

31 October


07 November

07 November



Data collection system: Release history and known issues

Issue Summary Status Date raised Date resolved
Release ID Release date Release summary
66 03 Jun 2021

The following quality rules have been added, deleted or amended:


  • QR.Instance.SPLENGTH.3

The Frequency Counts report is now available from the collection dashboard.

65 18 May 2021

The HESA Data Entry tool has been updated to .net framework 4.8 (This is downloadable from the Coding manual home page - under the Submission process and quality assurance section).

63 22 Apr 2021

The Validation kit has been updated and released in line with the recent schema changes in Version 1.6 of the Coding Manual.

The following quality rules have been added or amended:


  • QR.C20054Course.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.2
  • QR.C20054EntryProfile.CARELEAVER.3
  • QR.C20054EntryProfile.PARED.1/2
  • QR.C20054EntryProfile.SEC.1
  • QR.C20054Entryprofile.UCASSCHEMECODE.1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • QR.C20054Instance.FUNDCOMP.4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
  • QR.C20054Instance.GROSSFEE.34, 35
  • QR.C20054QualificationsAwarded.CLASS.5, 6, 7, 8, 9


  • QR.C20054.Instance.GROSSFEE.11, 12, 13, 16, 17, 20, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32.

An updated version of the C20054 Designation file (30/03/2021) has been loaded. This is used by quality rules for providers that remain designated with the OfS.

The Continuity register has been updated for C20054. Continuity rules, linking submitted data to last year's submitted data, are now updated.

The Entry profile report, enabling providers to review missing entry profile data, has been updated and is available via the data collection system.

62 08 Apr 2021

The first C20054 designation file (15/03/2021) has been loaded. This is used by quality rules for providers that remain designated with the OfS.

 Following this update, the Designation status report (for those with Limited and Teach out designation) is now available on the Data Collection System.

The latest versions of the Office for National Statistics postcode files have been added. These are used by quality rules that validate the return of postcode.

61 25 Mar 2021

The following quality rules have been amended or deleted:


  • QR.C20054.QualificationsAwarded.CLASS.2, 3
  • QR.C20054.QualificationsAwarded.QUAL.1
  • QR.C20054.StudentEquality.GENDERID.2
  • QR.C20054.StudentEquality.SEXORT.2


  • QR.C20054.Instance.GROSSFEE.21, 33
60 11 Mar 2021

The Validation kit has been updated and released in line with the recent schema changes in Version 1.5 of the Coding Manual.

The following quality rules have been added or amended:


  • QR.Course.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.1 

  • QR.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.DELORG.1, 2, 3, 4 

  • QR.Course.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.3 

  • QR.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.DELORGPROP.1, 2 

  • QR.DeliveryOrganisationAndLocation.PCODELOC.1, 2 

  • QR.EntryProfile.APELCRD.1 

  • QR.EntryProfile.CARELEAVER.1, 2 

  • QR.EntryProfile.CRDPTSTU.1, 2, 3, 4, 5 

  • QR.EntryProfile.CRDSCM.1, 2 

  • QR.Instance.FUNDCOMP.3 

  • QR.Instance.RSNEND.9 

  • QR.Student.UCASPERID.1 


  • QR.QR.Instance.FUNDCODE.3
57 28 Jan 2021

The data collection system for C20054 has been enabled with the 'Send data' functionality to validate against this year's schema and the rolled-on business rules, based on their final position of 2019/20 (C19054).

The validation kit is available with a roll-on of the 2019/20 business rules. Rules will be updated for C20054 throughout future releases. If you already have the validation kit installed there is no need to install a new version. If you do not currently have the validation kit installed, you can access it by going here.

Please note that access to the data collection system is governed by the Identity system. Users will need to ensure that they have the relevant permissions attached to their Identity system account in order to access the data collection system.

56 14 Jan 2021 The HUSID Lookup Service is now available, containing students from the 2019/20 collection. Please see the HUSID lookup support page for further information at

The data entry tool is live. This is the program which will produce XML data in the format required for submission to HESA. The link will be added to the next release of the coding manual, but can be downloaded here:

A high-level summary of the C20054 major external component releases is highlighted below.

This is a guide to the proposed sequence, and releases may occur before, or after the month indicated dependent on internal and external factors.


  • Data entry tool
  • HUSID lookup service
  • Opening of the Data Collection System with rules and rule compare functionality
  • Validation kit based on current year schema, with business rules rolled-on from last year


  • Business rules release to match coding manual schema and coverage updates
  • Add new constituent HE providers to Data Collection System drop-down


  • Business rules release to match coding manual schema and coverage updates
  • First load of the OfS designation file (when available from OfS)
  • * J for UCAS loaded into the system for validation (if available) [likely to be April or May, or when UCAS can share this provider information with HESA]


  • Business rules release to match coding manual schema and coverage updates
  • XTPOINTs library updated to validate data against QualificationOnEntry.QUALTYPES
  • Roll-on of exception rules (that are not dependent upon derived fields)
  • Continuity Register update
  • Designation report


  • Business rules release to match coding manual schema and coverage updates
  • Exception rule updates following derived field implementation
  • Entry Profile report


  • Business rules release to match coding manual schema and coverage updates
  • Credibility and Exception rule updates using available external static data
  • Data Supply, Continuity (Expected Instances) population report (moved from May to June)
  • Frequency Counts report


  • Credibility reports roll-on (moved from June), Credibility reports updates
  • IRIS reports
  • Revisions to XTPOINTs appendix (if required)


  • NSS draft report, Unistats report
  • Commit functionality and Sign-off form available

Stages of data submission

A. Sending data

Send data by clicking on the 'send data' button in the data collection system. Note that actions not currently available will be greyed out.

Data collection system - Process flow

Browse your computer to locate the file you wish to submit, and upload the file to the data collection system. 


  • Files can have any name
  • Files must be in XML and conform to the relevant XML Schema Definition (XSD) file
  • Files can be compressed using PKZip/WinZip which will significantly reduce the upload time
  • Only a single file can be held on the system.

B. Validation

Automated validation checks (quality rules) will now run.

Further details on the quality rules which apply to this collection can be found in the coding manual.

The Quality rules report will contain the details of any rules triggered by the submission. Make any necessary amendments to the data and resubmit the file to the system. To pass validation, the file must not trigger any validation errors.

You can run some of these validation checks through our validation kit before submitting data to the data collection system. The kit enables you to test your data locally against schema and business stage validation rules prior to submission. You are strongly encouraged to use the validation kit as part of your data preparations.

Remember that you need to process and pass the business-stage validation in order to meet the requirements of the return deadline.

How to obtain a switch

When errors are triggered in the Data Collection system but the data has been checked and is genuine, you need to request a switch. This is because your file will not pass the validation requirements of the collection deadlines if there are any remaining errors.

Please email your switch request to Liaison, stating which rule is causing the error to be triggered and for how many records, together with an explanation as to why the data is genuine.

This will then be forwarded to your funding council/regulator for them to review. They may agree the switch, ask for more information or state how they wish the data to be returned so that an error is no longer triggered.

This request should be sent well in advance of any deadline, to allow sufficient time for a decision to be made.

When a switch has been agreed, it will be applied to your data for the count specified and the data will be reprocessed. This will resolve the error.

If the count increases, the rule will be triggered again, and you will need to request that the count on the switch be increased. This will be forwarded to your funding council/regulator for approval.

To proceed to the next stage in the submission process, a valid file needs to have been submitted. The data will then be classed as 'committable' and the option to process a COMMIT transaction will be made available through the data collection system.  

Prior to committing data, you should review all of the reports produced on the data collection system and make any necessary corrections to the data.

The COMMIT transaction sends a copy of your submission to our data quality assurance team and, where appropriate, to the relevant funding council. We analyse your return in parallel with your own analysis.


A passed commit transaction will lock the system to prevent the data from being amended. This is to allow our data quality assurance team to analyse the submission. To unlock the system you will need to request a DECOMMIT transaction.

Request a decommit by email or on +44 (0)1242 211144

Remember that you need to process and pass a COMMIT transaction in order to meet the requirements of the commit deadline.

Once we have analysed your committed return, data quality queries will be posted onto the Issue Management System data quality database. Relevant users will be notified by email when these queries are available to view. The Issue Management System user guide provides help on using the Issue Management System.

Access the Issue Management System data quality database

Once your data has passed all the stages of validation, and any issues highlighted during credibility checking have been addressed, we will set the return to CREDIBLE. This produces the sign-off form.

When data is set to credible, a link to the sign-off form is automatically emailed to the head of the submitting organisation as well as the appropriate record contact. The form should be completed and signed by the head of the reporting organisation and returned to us by email or post. This verification offers both you and us assurances regarding onward use of the data.

Sign-off completes the data collection process.