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Introduction to data on HE students

Who is HESA?

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency) is the expert organisation in UK higher education data and analysis. We have been collecting, processing, and publishing data about higher education (HE) in the UK since the 1994/95 academic year.

As the trusted source of HE data and analysis, HESA plays a key role in supporting and enhancing the competitive strength of the sector.

What data do we collect on students?

We collect data from universities, colleges, and other HE providers about their student population. We collect detailed data about all students studying HE level programmes in the UK. We also collect summary data about students registered at UK HE providers, but studying at overseas institutions.

The data we collect includes information about students’:

  • Personal characteristics
  • Place of study
  • Courses and modules they are undertaking
  • Entry qualifications and socio-economic backgrounds
  • Progression through HE and the qualifications they achieve.

How do we collect data on students?

HE providers currently submit data to us on an annual basis about their student population. This data is submitted retrospectively – so students studying in the academic year September 2016 to August 2017 will be returned to us in October 2017. We rigorously quality assure and process the data which we then publish in January and February of 2018.

We have developed detailed specifications for the data we expect providers to return to us. Much of the data is gathered via the HESA Student record which collects information on all students studying in the UK at traditional HE providers. We collect further data via:

  • the Aggregate Offshore record (AOR) for students studying overseas but registered at a UK provider
  • the Initial Teacher Training record (ITT) for students on teacher training programmes
  • the AP Student record for students studying at alternative HE providers.

What data do we publish?

All of the tables we publish are collected together in our HE Student data pages for ease of reference. These include some tables created specifically for the HE Student data pages as well as further data taken from our Statistical First Releases (SFRs) and UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs):

  • The SFR is the first release of data on students. Each year we publish an SFR on HE Student Statistics and HE Student Statistics: Alternative Providers
  • UK PIs provide comparative data on the performance of HE providers. They focus on metrics including widening participation and non-continuation rates.

From which organisations do we collect data on students?

We collect detailed data from all publicly funded HE institutions in the UK via the HESA Student record.

We also collect data, via the AP Student record, of courses from alternative HE providers that have met the HEFCE criteria set by the Government for quality, academic performance, course eligibility, financial sustainability, management, and governance.

References in charts and tables to 'HE Student enrolments' include publicly funded HE providers and University of Buckingham.

What historical data on students in HE is available?

Open data icon

From January 2018 onwards, we have published current data in the form of interactive tables embedded in the website. 

Before 2018, we published much of our data as Excel spreadsheets. Detailed data on students from our Students in Higher Education publications is now available free of charge, under a Creative Commons licence, as part of our Open Data roadmap.

View a complete archive of our SFRs and UK PIs

How are Open University students counted?

Enrolments and qualifications registered at one of The Open University's (OU) national centres in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will contribute to the totals of those countries where statistics are shown by country of HE provider. Please note that all non-UK domiciled OU students, those who study at postgraduate research level, and students returned in the Aggregate Offshore record, are registered to the OU administrative centre in England.

Why do we round and suppress data?

HESA data is collected for statistical research purposes, but student and staff data can be 'personal data' in its raw form that needs to be protected from unauthorised exposure. Therefore, a Standard Rounding Methodology is used in all HESA publications and must be used by other users of HESA data too. 

Learn more about rounding and suppressing data

What further guidance is available for interpreting our data?

For further guidance on interpreting our data:

  • The definitions to accompany our Student, AP Student, and Aggregate offshore information, offers definitions for all the key fields that appear in our tables
  • Our data intelligence section provides notes submitted by HE providers to comment on anomalies in their data.

What further data is available?

If you cannot find the information you want in our published tables, contact our Custom data enquiry service, which can provide you with data extracts to suit your needs, on +44 (0) 1242 211133, or via the email button below:

Custom data timescales, costs, and FAQs

Submit a custom data request