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Timeliness and punctuality

In this section, we assess the timeliness and punctuality of the collection, analysis, and publication of Graduate Outcomes data.

Timeliness here refers to the gap between the publication of data and the period to which the data refer. Timeliness of data is an important aspect of meeting user needs; where data is going to be used to guide decisions on the part of users, it is important both that users have access to the most current data and that the gap between collection and publication is reduced as much as is compatible with the production of high quality statistical outputs.

Punctuality refers to the publication of statistical outputs according to a pre-announced timetable. In the interests of transparency and fair access to data, it is a requirement of the Code of Practice for Statistics that official statistics outputs should be pre-announced as part of a 12-month release calendar, and that any deviations from planned publication dates should be announced and explained as soon as possible.[1]

Timeliness and user needs

As discussed in the Users and user needs section, HESA data on graduates is of interest to a wide variety of users. For many users, HESA data provides important support for decision making processes; prospective students may use information about what graduates do after completing their qualifications to inform their choices of course and provider, while graduate employers may target their efforts on the basis of outcomes data. For all these users, the ability to make good decisions will depend in part on access to timely data; given the rapidly evolving nature of the graduate labour market, for example, policies which aim to attract graduates with certain skills to a city or region will be less effective if it is based on out-of-date information about where graduates are more likely to do certain kinds of jobs.

The timescale for collecting and publishing Graduate Outcomes data was considered carefully in the design of the new survey. The DLHE survey collected information about graduates six months after the completion of their qualification, and a stratified sample of DLHE respondents were surveyed again three years later for the LDLHE (Longitudinal Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education) survey. The majority of stakeholders who took part in the first NewDLHE consultation believed that the new survey should be carried out at some point between six and thirty-six months after the completion of qualifications. Six months was seen as too early, inasmuch as graduates would not yet have had time to make much progress in their post-HE careers; on the other hand, there was seen to be a risk that it would be difficult to contact enough graduates to provide a suitable dataset thirty-six months after graduation.[2] The 15-month interval between graduation and data collection used in the Graduate Outcomes survey was therefore selected so as to strike a balance between the availability of more useful careers data and the ability to obtain a high response rate.

Once all four cohorts for any given year have been surveyed, HESA aims to move swiftly towards publication, delivering final provider-level data to back to the providers it concerns about three months after the close of the data collection for the final cohort and releasing the Statistical Bulletin and open data about two months later. This timeline ensures that users of the survey have access to data on what graduates are doing 15 months after graduation while that data is still current.

Production timeline

In accordance with the Code of Practice for Statistics, HESA announces its planned data releases in advance. Upcoming data releases are announced on the HESA website, with their month of publication, at least six months before the planned publication date; National Statistics data releases are also pre-announced on the National Statistics hub.[3] Exact dates for publication are confirmed at least four weeks before each data release.

The first release of Graduate Outcomes data was initially scheduled to take place in spring 2020; In the autumn of 2019, it was announced that both the Statistical Bulletin and the open data release would take place in April 2020. Before a precise publication date could be released, however, HESA staff moved to home-based working in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result both of the challenges of remote working and of capacity issues caused by the pandemic, the publication of the Statistical Bulletin was delayed until 18 June 2020, with the open data released subsequently in two tranches.[4] Although was not possible to adhere to the timeline published before the pandemic, HESA followed the guidance issued by the UK Statistics Authority on the production of statistics during the coronavirus crisis and announced any changes to the publication timeline as far as possible in advance.[5]

The second year of Graduate Outcomes data was originally scheduled to be published in May 2021. Additional preparatory work, however, was required for the second year of publications, including investigations into the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on 2018/19 data and whether it would be necessary to apply weighting to the results of the survey.[6] Taking into account the time that would be required for these additional investigations, coupled with the ongoing challenges of publishing under pandemic circumstances, we made the decision to delay publication of the 2018/19 data until July 2021, with the Statistical Bulletin scheduled to be released on 20 July 2021, followed by the open data tables shortly afterward.

Frequency of production

From its inception, the Graduate Outcomes survey was designed to be published, like DLHE, as an annual data release. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 specifies that data relating to HE providers in England and their courses must be published at least once a year, and an annual timetable reflects the fact that most UK higher education activities are organised around the academic year, which runs from early autumn to early summer.[7]

Not all graduates, however, complete their qualification at the same point in the academic year, and collecting data in quarterly cohorts allows us to make sure that we obtain data from all graduates about their activities 15 months after completion, regardless of when they completed their qualification. If all graduates finishing their degrees in the 2018/19 academic year (August 2018 to July 2019) had been surveyed with reference to a single census week in September 2020, for example, we would have data from twenty five months after completion for those students who had completed their qualifications in August 2018, but only fourteen months after completion for those who had finished in July 2019; such a discrepancy in timescale would make it difficult to compare outcomes for graduates finishing their qualifications at different points in the academic year.

The first two years of publication have been shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting changes in our ways of working at HESA. From year three of Graduate Outcomes, it is hoped that HESA will be able to move gradually towards the collection and publication timetable initially established for year one, with data collection for cohort D closing at the end of November and statistical releases being published annually in the late spring or early summer.

Next: Accessibility and clarity


[2] HESA. 2016. ‘Synthesis of Consultation Responses.’ https://www.hesa.ac.uk/files/NewDLHE_consultation-synthesis.pdf

[4] HESA. 2020. Coronavirus update. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/coronavirus

For the final publication timetable for Graduate Outcomes, see https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis/upcoming

[5] Office for Statistics Regulation. 2020. Regulatory guidance: Guidance on statistical practice for statistics producers during the coronavirus crisis. UK Statistics Authority. https://osr.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Regulatory-guidance_changing-methods_Coronavirus.pdf

[6] HESA. 2021. Graduate Outcomes 2018/19 data delivery. https://www.hesa.ac.uk/news/29-03-2021/graduate-outcomes-201819-data-delivery

[7] Higher Education and Research Act 2017, section 65.