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Guide to the UKPIs


This document offers a brief introduction to the purpose and nature of UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs) for HE providers in the UK.

What are UK Performance Indicators?

UK Performance Indicators are a range of statistical indicators intended to offer an objective measure of how an HE provider is performing. They are not 'league tables' and do not attempt to compare all providers against a ‘gold standard’ or against each other (but see below). There are indicators for all publicly funded providers in the UK.

They currently cover:

  • Widening participation indicators
  • Non-continuation rates (including projected outcomes)
  • Module completion rates
  • Research output
  • Employment of graduates.

Why produce UK Performance Indicators?

The UK Performance Indicators have been published by HEFCE since 1996/97 and by HESA since 2002/03.

The purpose of UK Performance Indicators is to:

  • Provide reliable information on the nature and performance of the UK higher education sector
  • Allow comparison between individual HE providers of a similar nature, where appropriate
  • Enable HE providers to benchmark their own performance
  • Inform policy developments
  • Contribute to the public accountability of higher education.

Who are they for?

UK Performance Indicators are of interest to a wide range of bodies, including governments, universities and colleges, and the UK higher education funding bodies. The indicators are also relevant to schools, prospective students and employers.

Why not league tables?

No meaningful league table could fairly demonstrate the performance of all HE providers relative to each other. The HE sector is extremely diverse. Each HE provider has its own distinct mission, and each emphasises different aspects of higher education. Because of this diversity, and the need to compare providers fairly, we have used a range of indicators and benchmarks. Even so, we do not cover all aspects of a HE provider’s performance. In particular, these indicators concentrate on performance relative to full-time undergraduates. However, note that there are other sources of data on HE providers that can be used to make comparisons, such as the results of the Research Excellence Framework.

What is the benchmark?

Because there are such differences between HE providers, the average values for the whole of the higher education sector are not necessarily helpful when comparing providers. A sector average has therefore been calculated which is then adjusted for each HE provider to take into account some of the factors which contribute to the differences between them.

The factors allowed for are subject of study, qualifications on entry and age on entry (young or mature).

The average, adjusted for these factors, is called the adjusted sector benchmark. For some of the participation indicators, we have also allowed for which region of the country the student comes from and produced what we have called location-adjusted benchmarks.

For the employment indicator, the benchmark used takes account of a wider range of factors.

The benchmark can be used in two ways:

To see how well a provider is performing compared to the HE sector as a whole. It is usually preferable to compare a HE provider’s indicator to its adjusted sector benchmark in order to establish how well a provider is performing in the HE sector. When there is a significant difference between the HE provider's performance and the benchmark, we have marked it with a symbol. A 'plus' symbol is used for HE providers performing better than the benchmark and a 'minus' symbol for those performing worse.

To decide whether to compare two HE providers. It is hard to meaningfully compare two HE providers that are very different. For example, an HE provider where most students enter with very good A-level qualifications should not usually be compared with one whose students come from a wider range of educational backgrounds. Similarly, a medical school and a college that mainly concentrates on engineering subjects are not comparable, as medical students have much lower non-continuation rates than engineering students. If two HE providers have very different benchmarks, this is an indication that they are so different that comparing them would not give a helpful answer. But note that if two HE providers have very different location-adjusted benchmarks, this may just show that they recruit from different regions of the UK.

Where the number of students within a specified population at an HE provider is small, the values of the indicator could be very variable and should be interpreted with care.

Do the results affect HE policy?

Policy development, both at national and HE provider level, is informed by UK Performance Indicators, but other factors are also taken into account. Within funding bodies and central government, the results are just one of many sources of information used to develop policies. The UK Performance Indicators also allow providers and funding councils to monitor the effects of policies over time, identify good practice and help disseminate it throughout the sector.

Widening participation indicators (table series T1, T2 and T7)

Table series T1 and T2 give information about the participation of groups that are under-represented in HE, relative to the population as a whole. Results are shown separately for young and mature students and for full-timers and part-timers, because each of these groups have different characteristics.

The indicators for young full-time students in tables T1a-T1c show, for each HE provider:

  • The percentage who attended a school or college in the state sector
  • The percentage who come from categories 4 to 7 of the new National Statistics age-adjusted(#4) Socio-economic Classification (NS-SEC)
  • The percentage who come from a low participation neighbourhood (as denoted by its postcode) using the POLAR3 method from 2011/12, the POLAR2 method 2006/07 to 2010/11 and Super Profiles method prior to 2006/07. Please note that these three methods are not comparable, see definitions for further details.

For mature students and for young part-time students, there is just one participation indicator, the percentage of entrants who have no previous HE qualification and come from a low-participation neighbourhood, which is given in tables T2a-T2c.

Table T7 shows, for all students, the proportion who are in receipt of the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) by HE provider, separately for full-time and part-time undergraduates.

For more information on the results for students from state schools, NS-SEC and low participation neighbourhoods, please see the summary. Summary information on DSA is shown separately.

Non-continuation rates (table series T3)

Non-continuation rates for students at an HE provider are presented in two ways. The first considers students who start in a particular year, and looks at whether they are still in higher education one year later (full-time students) or two years later (part-time students). The second method (considered under the next heading) looks at projected outcomes over a longer period.

Using the first method, tables T3a-T3d show what percentage of full-time entrants have continued at the same HE provider, transferred to another HE provider, or left higher education completely by the following academic year. Table T3e shows what percentage of part-time entrants at each HE provider have continued at the same HE provider, transferred to another HE provider, or left higher education completely in the following two years.

Figures are shown separately for young and mature entrants, for young students from low participation areas and from other areas, and for mature entrants with and without previous higher education qualifications.

For more information on the results for this section please see the summary.

Non-continuation rates – projected outcomes (table T5)

Another way to look at non-continuation rates is to use information on current movements of students to project what would happen in the long run. Thus, the indicators in table T5 project what proportion of students will eventually gain a degree, what proportion will leave their current university or college but transfer into higher education elsewhere, and what proportion will leave higher education altogether without any qualification.

For more information on the results for this section please see the summary.

Employment indicator (table E1)

The employment indicator is based on the Destinations of Leavers in Higher Education (DLHE) survey. The DLHE survey was carried out among graduates six months after the end of the academic year in which they graduate. The indicator given in tables E1a-E1d shows the percentage of graduates who are employed or in further study (or both), among all those who are employed, unemployed, or studying. Separate tables have been produced for full-time first degree, part-time first degree, full-time other undergraduate and part-time other undergraduate leavers.

For more information on the results for this section please see the summary.

Published data

The UK Performance Indicators for 2002/03 onwards are available from our website . For all previous years, the indicators are available from the HEFCE website. All publicly funded HE providers in the UK are included, but not all feature in every table. The data for widening participation, employment and research indicators relate to data from the latest academic year available at the time of publication. Those for retention and continuation relate to the previous academic year (full-time entrants) or two years previous (part-time entrants).