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This is an annual publication providing UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs) relating to higher education (HE). It is based on data submitted to HESA by publicly funded higher education providers in the United Kingdom (UK) and one privately funded HE provider, The University of Buckingham.

Purpose of indicators

Following the recommendations of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education, the Government asked the funding councils to develop suitable indicators and benchmarks of performance in the higher education sector. The UK Performance Indicators Steering Group (UKPISG) was established, with membership drawn from government departments, the funding councils and representative bodies.

These indicators are designed to provide reliable information on the nature and performance of the higher education sector in the UK and a consistent set of measures of this performance. This will contribute to a greater public accountability by the sector, as well as ensure that policy decisions can be made on the basis of consistent and reliable information.

Throughout, any reference to "UK performance indicator" should be taken to mean a "UK performance indicator and its benchmark".


All the tables are based on students who are residents of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Most of the indicators are shown separately for young and mature students, where young students are those under 21 on 30 September of their year of entry to the HE provider. In addition, most of them refer just to students on undergraduate courses. The non-continuation indicators are further restricted to full-time entrants and part-time first degree entrants whose intensity of study in their first year is at least 30 percent of a full-time student.

The indicators are given for the HE providers that existed during the academic year on which the indicators are based.

Lifelong Learning Networks (LLNs) are intended to improve the coherence, clarity and certainty of progression opportunities for vocational learners into and through higher education. Model 2 lifelong learning networks are a mechanism for distributing funding for additional students to members of a network through a single lead HE provider. Students funded through this mechanism are returned by the lead HE provider and are therefore included within the UK Performance Indicators of the lead HE provider although they may have no teaching provided by that HE provider.

Differences from HESA statistics

Although the tables in this publication are based on data collected by HESA, the statistics differ from those that have been published elsewhere by HESA in a number of respects. For example, the number of first degree full-time entrants shown in Table T1a of the UKPIs differs slightly from that given in Table 4a of the HESA reference volume, ‘Students in Higher Education’. The main differences are as follows:

  • The ‘UK domiciled’ students reported by HESA include students domiciled in Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. The tables in the UK Performance Indicators exclude students from these areas.
  • The HESA reference date for age is 31 August; for the UKPI tables the reference date is 30 September.

Indicators included

The UK Performance Indicators cover the following areas:

  • Tables T1 and T2 provide widening participation indicators, that is, what proportion of entrants come from various under-represented groups such as state schools or colleges, specified age-adjusted socio-economic classes and low-participation neighbourhoods. The low-participation neighbourhood data produced from the 2011/12 publication uses the POLAR3 method. Prior to 2011/12 low-participation neighbourhood data was based on the POLAR2 method and prior to 2006/07 the Super Profiles method. None of these methods are comparable; please see the definitions document for details.
    The POLAR3 and POLAR2 low participation measures are based on a UK wide classification of areas into participation bands. The relatively high (in UK terms) participation rate in Scotland coupled with the very high proportion of HE that occurs in FE colleges means that the figures for Scottish HE providers could, when viewed in isolation, misrepresent their contribution to widening participation. Therefore, low participation data has not been produced for HE providers in Scotland from 2007/08.
  • Table T7 covers students who are in receipt of Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA).
  • Tables T3, T4 and T5 provide indicators of the non-continuation rates of HE providers. T3a-T3d look at the proportion of full-time students who do not continue at a HE provider beyond their first year. T3e looks at the proportion of part-time first degree students who do not continue at a HE provider beyond their second year. T4 looks at the proportions that resume study after a year out of HE. T5 gives the projected outcomes for students who are at a HE provider, that is, what proportion are projected to qualify at the HE provider, transfer to another HE provider, or leave higher education with no qualification.
  • Table T6, which is published only for Welsh HE providers, provides module completion rates for part-time students. Table T6 has been discontinued from the 2013 publication.
  • Table R1 provides indicators of research output, looking at quantitative outcomes of research that will change from year to year. These are different from the ratings of quality produced by the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) and are designed to complement, rather than replace, them. Table R1 has been discontinued from the 2015 publication.
  • Table E1 provides an indicator of the employment of graduates. Table E1 has been disconti ued from the 2018 publication

Many of these tables are accompanied by supplementary tables. They are designed to provide background information and contextual statistics to the main tables.

HE providers in the UK are diverse and the range of indicators reflects part of this diversity. Some of the factors that make up this diversity have been taken into account in producing the benchmarks which are included in most of the tables. For more information on what the benchmarks are, please see the Guide to UKPIs.

How to interpret the indicators

Because of the diversity of UK HE providers, there is no one measure of what is ‘best’. The indicators in this report are designed to be taken together and even so do not cover all facets of the sector.

In making comparisons, care should be taken to ensure that two HE providers are alike enough to compare, or at least that the differences are made explicit. There is no point, in the extreme case, in trying to compare a small specialist college of art and design with a large multi-faculty university. However, there are less extreme cases where comparison is still not meaningful. To help decide if two HE providers are alike enough to be compared, the benchmarks may be used. In general, if two HE providers have substantially different benchmarks they should not be compared.

Small numbers

The indicators apply to various sub-groups of the student population, such as young full-time degree students, or mature part-time students. By splitting the population in this way, there is a danger that the numbers on which a particular indicator is based may be rather small. In such cases, the values of the indicator could be very variable and interpretation is particularly difficult. For example, if there were only 50 students in the base population, a change in status of only two of the students would change the indicator by 4%. In all tables, the numbers of students forming the base for the indicators have been given. Where a HE provider has fewer than 22.5 students with known data, the indicator has been omitted.