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Definitions and data standards

The links below lead to explanations and defintions of terms used on the website. There are also useful lists of providers and subjects, data intelligence notes, and frequently asked questions. 

Subjects, disciplines, industries and occupations

Information about codes and groupings for subjects, cost centres, REF units of assessment, SIC and SOC codes.

HE providers

A list of UK HE providers who subscribe to HESA.

Data intelligence

Important notes about specific issues in the HESA data.

Frequently asked questions

What is a 'population'?

A ‘population’ defines (for example) which students a query or report is based on.

We do not include all of the students that we hold data on in every table. There are several main populations that are used in our student data releases. The HESA standard registration population is the main population that is used in our standard reports and publications. This is generally used for non-FTE student enquiries, and existed from 2000/01 onwards.

For further information of the differences between the various HESA populations please see the links below:

What is a 'first degree' student? How does this differ from 'other undergraduate' students?

A ‘first degree’ is more commonly known as a bachelor’s degree.

Officially this includes first degrees (including eligibility to register to practice with a health or social care or veterinary statutory regulatory body), first degrees with Qualified Teacher Status (QTS)/registration with a General Teaching Council (GTC), postgraduate bachelor’s degree at level H, enhanced first degrees (including those leading towards obtaining eligibility to register to practice with a health or social care or veterinary statutory regulatory body), first degrees obtained concurrently with a diploma, and intercalated first degrees.

‘Other undergraduate’ includes all undergraduate courses excluding the bachelor’s degrees.

These are degrees with qualification aims equivalent to and below first degree level, including, but not limited to, Professional Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at level H (unless shown separately), foundation degrees (unless shown separately), diplomas in higher education (including those with eligibility to register to practice with a health or social care or veterinary statutory regulatory body), Higher National Diploma (HND), Higher National Certificate (HNC), Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE), Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE), foundation courses at higher education level, National Vocational Qualification (NVQ)/Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) at NQF levels 4 and 5, post-degree diplomas and certificates at undergraduate level (including those in Teaching in the Lifelong Learning Sector), professional qualifications at undergraduate level, other undergraduate diplomas and certificates including post-registration health and social care courses, other formal higher education qualifications of less than degree standard, institutional undergraduate credit and non-formal undergraduate qualifications.

What are the differences between a count of students, full-person equivalent (FPE) and full-time equivalent (FTE)?

A student on a course is referred to as an instance. Our standard figures for student data are based on a count of student instances.

Since it is possible for a student to undertake more than one course during the reporting year, there may be more than one instance per student in a provider's data.

If a data request includes subject data, then we would provide this with a count of  full-person equivalent (FPE) instead of the count of instances. A course can cover a number of subjects, so to represent this we apportion the instance to indicate the proportion of a course that relates to each subject.

For example:

  • Student A is studying a joint course with equal amounts of Mathematics and English. They are represents as 0.5 in each.
  • Student B is studying a joint course with equal amounts of Mathematics and Physics. They are represented as 0.5 in each.
  • Student C is studying Mathematics (50%) with Physics (25%) and French (25%). They are represented as 0.5 in Mathematics, and 0.25 in Physics and French.
  • Student D is only studying French. They are represented as 1 in French.

The total FPE by subject is:

  • Mathematics 1.5
  • English 0.5
  • Physics 0.75
  • French 1.25
  • Total 4

Full-time equivalent (FTE) is a concept that considers the proportion of the full-time course that the student is studying. A student on a full-time, full year course would be returned as 1.0, whereas a student on a part-time course that is 60% of a full-time course would be returned as 0.6. This counting method gives the number of full-time equivalent students rather than an actual count.

What is the difference between a distance learner in the main student dataset, and the students held in the Aggregate Offshore record?

A distance learner in the Student record is a student who is registered with a UK HE provider but studies outside of the provider for most of the year. They can be either ‘UK based’ or ‘Non-UK based (funded)’.

The Aggregate Offshore record contains data on students studying (to date) wholly outside the UK who are either registered with the reporting institution or who are studying for an award of the reporting institution; within this record there then contains offshore distance learners who do not regularly interact with a physical part of the offshore aspect of an institution.

The offshore record was first collected separately in 2007/08. Prior to then these students were collected in the main Student record. Please note that the data collected separately from 2007/08 onwards is not comparable to the earlier years where the data was in the main record.

What is the difference between ‘nationality’ and ‘domicile’?

Nationality defines the country of legal nationality.

Where a student has dual nationality including British, they will be coded as United Kingdom (GB). If a dual nationality, not including British, but including non-UK EU country then the relevant EU country code will be given. If neither British nor non-UK EU country then either nationality can be used. Please note that this field was not a compulsory field until 2007/08, when it became compulsory for entrants and strongly encouraged for all other students. This field is optional for all students at institutions in Northern Ireland.

Domicile records a student's normal place of residence before they started their course.

Domicile data is supplied to HESA in the form of postcodes (UK, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man domiciled students) or country codes. Postcodes are mapped to counties, unitary authorities and UK nations using the Office National Statistics Postcode Directory (ONSPD). Countries are mapped to geographical regions, informed by the National Statistics Country Classification 2006 grouping of countries. Where no data is supplied about the student's domicile, fee eligibility is used to assign to either UK region unknown or Non-European-Union unknown.