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Coverage of the record

Version 1.0.1 Produced 2020-07-01


General definition

Education is a devolved government matter in the UK, and HESA collects data to meet the requirements of its statutory customers. The definitions in this coverage statement apply across all administrations in the UK. Where a statutory customer’s specific requirements differ from the standard coverage in this statement, this is clearly noted by exception below.

The HESA Student record is collected in respect of all students who are attending a course that leads to the award of a qualification or higher education level credit. All students that receive a qualification of some sort following an assessment of performance, whether that be from the provider themselves or another awarding body, should be included in the record.

HESA considers a student to be attending if they have started a course. A student is considered to have started a course if they have engaged with a course by:

  • attending a class or lecture,
  • accessing online materials, or
  • attending a fresher's or induction week.

If a student has started a Course then the student is in coverage, even if they are not yet registered. (Please see the ‘Further guidance on returning Engagements' guidance document for more information on when an Engagement must be returned).

Statutory customers may have some country specific exceptions to this principle. This is detailed further below.

'Higher Education level' for the purpose of HESA's data collection is broadly courses for which the level of instruction is above that of courses leading to GCE A levels, SQA Highers, ONC or OND, this is consistent with the definition of higher education in schedule 6 of the Education Reform Act 1988.

'Provider credit' is to be interpreted as a measure describing the volume of student outcomes. Credit can normally be carried forward and ultimately count towards the award of a qualification, for example, credit points which can be accumulated towards the award of a degree.

We divide the year into three ‘Reference periods’ to provide three Dissemination points annually where comparable data on the HE sector can be produced to serve a wide range of statistical, regulatory, statutory and other public purposes. The Reference periods are:

  • Reference period one: 01/08/YYYY - 15/11/YYYY
  • Reference period two: 16/11/YYYY - 15/03/YYYY
  • Reference period three: 16/03/YYYY - 31/07/YYYY

The coverage of the record is those students who are (or were) actively following a course at some time during the Reference period. However, there may be some cases where a student needs to be returned who was not actively following a course in that Reference period. For example:

  • The return of awards from dormant status, where the award was not known at the point the student stopped actively following a course.
  • The return of dormant status that applied from a previous Reference period, where the change to dormant status was not known in the previous Reference period.

Where a student ceases active study, an appropriate status should be used to indicate this. Data required for students not actively following a course is limited. These students are not within the standard registration population, but remain in-scope until all information relating to their study is reported to HESA. This data must be returned and signed-off by the accountable officer at the HEP (normally the Vice-Chancellor or Principal) prior to the Dissemination point associated with that Reference period.

Students studying wholly outside the UK

There is not currently a requirement to send an individualised HESA Student record for students studying for a whole engagement outside of the UK, with the exception of certain funded distance learners (see section on 'Funded learners outside the UK', below).  

Link between coverage of the HESA Student record and the Aggregate offshore record

If it is known at the beginning of the engagement that a student will spend a block of eight weeks or more in the UK as part of their engagement then they should be included on the HESA Student record throughout.

If a period of eight weeks or more in the UK is an optional part of the course the student is engaging with, then the student should be included in the HESA Student record only if they come to the UK, and then from that point at which they come to the UK onwards.

If a student is expected to spend less than eight consecutive course weeks in the UK during their entire engagement they should be included on the Aggregate offshore record throughout.

Where students on distance learning courses move between UK and overseas locations as a consequence of changes in personal circumstances they must remain on the HESA Student record.

In addition, there may in any year be a small number of UK-domiciled students (usually research students) who, due to the nature of their study necessarily spend their entire studies overseas. These students will need to be included in the HESA Student record. An Off-Venue Activity entity must also be returned where applicable bearing the appropriate country code.

Funded learners outside the UK

There are a small number of students (normally distance learning students) studying outside the UK, who are required to be returned - e.g. Crown servants overseas and the British Armed Forces. They are required to be returned as their tuition fees are either directly funded by a UK government department, or the student has been permitted to access a tuition fee loan issued by the SLC.

No other distance learning students studying wholly outside the UK should be included in the HESA Student record.

Incoming/Outgoing visiting and exchange students

Incoming visiting and exchange students who are registered at the reporting provider must be included in the HESA Student record and flagged as incoming students in the Engagement.INCOMINGEXCHANGE field.

Students on outgoing exchanges or other mobility experiences must be included in the HESA Student record throughout their studies. An Off-Venue Activity entity bearing the appropriate country code should be returned to add detail to the general information provided.

ITT courses

Providers are expected to return data for students on employment-based routes where these fall into the general coverage of the record. Students on the School Direct Training Programme in England should be included. The Department for Education (DfE) collects data on other employment based routes via their Data Management System (DMS).

The ITT return will continue to run as a separate return.

Courses that involve collaborative or sub-contractual arrangements

Students studying at related undertakings of the provider are also within coverage of the record. A ‘related undertaking’ is an undertaking which is controlled (wholly or partly, and directly or indirectly) by the provider. Providers should seek advice from their principal regulator if they require further information about whether they have students at related undertakings.

For students whose study is on a collaborative or franchised course, also see the specific guidance for each country below.

Collaborative research provision

In general students should be reported by the same provider for the whole of one course, except where provision formally transfers from one provider to another as part of a formal collaborative arrangement to provide doctoral research training for a student or students. This will include examples such as a large Doctoral Training Partnership or Centre for Doctoral Training, a student on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership, or a co-tutelle du these, or other joint supervision agreement for a single student.

In the majority of cases where there is concurrent supervision, at more than one provider, there will be a concept of a 'lead provider', and this provider alone should be responsible for returning the student to HESA. Where no such concept exists, a single provider should be nominated from amongst the consortia for this purpose, to prevent double counting./p>

Where there is sequential collaboration a provider may transfer reporting responsibilities on to another provider after their own involvement ceases. Further guidance will be published shortly.

Providers in England

All students who are included on the HESES return to the OfS, whether fundable or not, should be returned to HESA, even if this is not normally compulsory under the coverage of the record. This will include all students funded through franchised, associate and regional college arrangements.

Providers in Northern Ireland

All students who would normally have been included on the HESES return, whether fundable or not, should be returned to HESA, even if this is not normally compulsory under the coverage of the record.

Providers in Scotland

Scottish higher education providers should exclude from their returns to HESA students who are taking:

  • 'articulated' courses at further education colleges, or
  • 'franchised' courses at FE colleges, or
  • other courses at other HE providers, or at FE colleges,

for those StudentCourseSessions for which the provider:

  • does not provide any of the teaching input, and
  • does not receive any funding, and
  • does not receive any tuition fee payment from, e.g. the Student Awards Agency for Scotland.

This applies, for example, if the HE provider validates the course and awards the qualification to which it leads, if this is the extent of its involvement with the course.

Providers in Wales

All students who are included on the HESES return to HEFCW, whether fundable or not, should be returned to HESA, regardless of where the student is registered. This will include all students who are part of franchise arrangements where the provision is franchised out from the provider. Students who are franchised in to the provider should be excluded.

Providers should refer to the HEFCW HESES circular for detailed definitions, including those for franchises and other collaborative arrangements.

FECs in Wales with HE provision directly funded by HEFCW must submit data relating to that provision in the HESA Student record.


Apprentices studying towards a Higher Education qualification or credit as a component of their apprenticeship must be included in the HESA Student record.  

Post-doctoral researchers and Higher Doctorates

Post-Doctoral researchers and individuals who are awarded Higher Doctorates should not be included in the HESA Student record, unless they are formally registered as research students at the reporting provider.

Doctorates awarded by publication

Students pursuing research qualifications awarded primarily on the basis of published works must be excluded from the HESA Student record, unless they are formally registered as research students at the reporting provider.

In-house courses

In-house courses run by providers for their own employees where the attending staff member is registered as a student at the reporting provider must be returned on the HESA Student record if any part of the course is credit bearing.

University of London external students

University of London external students registered for an examination only and based in the UK must be included in the HESA Student record.

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