Official Statistics

How higher education (HE) statistics are used

Examples of recent uses of higher education statistical products and data


The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS)

The key statistic in the “Participation Rates in Higher Education” Statistical First Release (SFR) is the Higher Education Initial Participation Rate (HEIPR).

HEIPR was used by BIS (and former Departments) and Her Majesty’s Treasury to track progress on the former Skills PSA target to “Increase participation in Higher Education towards 50 per cent of those aged 18 to 30, with growth of at least a percentage point every two years to the academic year 2010-11”. For example, it was reported in the Departmental annual report.

HEIPR has been quoted in Public Accounts Committees around increasing and widening participation in higher education

HEIPR has been quoted extensively by the Press

BIS receives enquiries (including Freedom of Information (FoI) requests) from the public about HEIPR, including from the following groups:

  • academic researchers
  • higher education sector
  • local authorities - students
  • Members of Parliament (via Parliamentary Questions).

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)

Figures in the HESA SFRs are high profile and are frequently used in the press and other external publications to illustrate: trends in university entry and graduation, often in the context of current higher education policies; graduate employment/unemployment rates, average salaries, and job quality. Members of the public also often request these figures. Some examples of media coverage are included below:

 Higher Education student enrolments and qualifications

 Destinations of leavers from Higher Education

These statistical outputs are not used to measure progress on any government targets, but the data that underpin them are of importance to funding bodies, Higher Education Institutions, and potential students:

Potential Students – sources such as the Unistats website use qualifier and graduate employment information to inform students when they are making their choice of what course to study and at which university.

Figures from the HESA statistical outputs are often used to respond to Parliamentary Questions. The following are examples:

BIS and HESA receive enquiries (including Freedom of Information (FoI) requests in the case of BIS) from the public about HESA’ statistics, including from the following groups:

  • academic researchers
  • higher Education sector
  • local Authorities
  • students
  • Members of Parliament (via Parliamentary Questions).

Student Loans Company (SLC)

The “Student Support” SFR provides a breakdown of how much student support was available to students in the form of grants, maintenance loans and tuition fee loans for the most recent three academic years, and how much has been awarded.

One of the key statistics is the distribution of those who receive full, partial or nil maintenance grants. This assists in tracking the (previous) government’s medium term commitment of 40% of higher education students being from lower income families.

These figures have therefore been used extensively internally by BIS (and its former Department) and Parliament.

BIS and SLC have responded to enquiries from the public about the student support figures, including from the following groups:

  • academic researchers
  • journalists (via Freedom of Information requests)
  • Members of Parliament (via Parliamentary Questions).

Information in this SFR is often the subject of media articles such as BBC news stories.

The “Student Loans” SFR provides, for each of the three most recent financial years, the total public student debt, the number of borrowers, and how much has been repaid - including early repayment of loans.

Internally within BIS and SLC, the number of borrowers repaying their loans, and the repayment amounts, are key pieces of information required for resource allocation, budgeting and financial management purposes as well as for monitoring the student support system. Other government departments make use of these figures for similar reasons, such as Her Majesty’s Treasury, and Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs.

Interest in total amount borrowed is expressed through Parliamentary Questions

The media is particularly interested in the size of the total student debt, and how much debt is written off.

Recently, the amount of tuition fee loans awarded to EU students and repayments from those living overseas after graduation has featured in:

Such figures are often used in commentary about the government’s success in recovering taxpayers’ money.

The interest in this SFR is such that from 2009, the Student Loans Company produced a supplementary Official Statistics publication which provides a more detailed analysis of the repayment statistics (“Income Contingent Repayments by Repayment Cohort and Tax Year”).

Both of the SLC SFRs are used by Ministers and their officials to help to shape, deliver and monitor policies, and to provide the potential savings or costs of new policies under consideration.

Do you use Higher Education statistics?

We would like to hear from you. Please contact the Higher Education statistics team

Published 31 July 2009