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Invitation to comment on future changes to the UK Performance Indicators

December 2013 | ref: Circular letter 33/2013


Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges, Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of other providers of higher education in England

Of interest to those responsible for:

Higher education, Increasing and widening participation, Student experience and destinations, Research management
Feedback should be submitted before noon on Friday 24 January 2014.

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Invitation to comment on future changes to the UK Performance Indicators


1. The UK Performance Indicators Steering Group (UKPISG) is considering a number of changes in relation to the UK Performance Indicators (UKPIs). The UKPIs are currently published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) on behalf of the four UK higher education (HE) funding bodies.

2. The possible changes outlined in this letter arise from the findings of ‘How should we measure higher education? A fundamental review of the UK Performance Indicators’, which has been published today. The fundamental review finds that UKPIs are valued as a way to measure HE provision, and that the current approach to UKPIs is appropriate. However it also determines that:

  • the current set of UKPIs requires some refinement
  • there is scope to introduce a small number of additional UKPIs to take account of the wider role of HE
  • there is a desire to broaden the populations and institutions covered by UKPIs to take account of the changing make-up of HE provision and of the HE sector. 

3. This letter invites your comments on some preliminary actions proposed by UKPISG in its initial response to the findings of the fundamental review of the UKPIs. An opportunity to comment is being provided to institutions before these changes are discussed further, formally amended if appropriate, accepted and then implemented by UKPISG during 2014.

4. All UK providers of HE are being asked by their relevant higher education funding body to submit any feedback that they may have about these proposals to the UKPISG secretariat at ukpisg@hefce.ac.uk. Feedback should be submitted before noon on Friday 24 January 2014.

Background to this letter

5. The first set of UKPIs was published in 1999, having been developed out of recommendations of the National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (the Dearing Report) to provide suitable indicators and associated benchmarks of the performance of the HE sector. The development of the UKPIs over time has been governed by UKPISG (for more information, see the content associated with UKPIs on the HESA web-site. This collaborative governance arrangement continues to bring together representatives of the four UK funding bodies for HE, HESA, government departments, HE institutions and other interested bodies to steer the development of these measures.

6. A fundamental review of the UKPIs was commissioned by UKPISG in early 2013, in the context of large-scale, fast-paced changes in the HE sector, and differing policies for HE between the UK nations. The overarching aim of the research was to review the rationale, purpose and policy drivers of the UKPIs, the usage and the users of the UKPIs; and whether the existing UKPIs were still fit for purpose. The review engaged with a wide range of interested bodies and organisations, and several of you will have participated.

7. The review made a number of recommendations to UKPISG, which were considered at the September 2013 meeting. UKPISG has accepted and will implement over time a series of recommendations as listed at Annex A below. Among the recommendations is a commitment to UKPISG engaging in dialogue with the sector as change is taken forward. It is considered that full implementation will take time and need to proceed in stages. UKPISG is therefore asking at this stage for your comments on a revised set of principles for the UKPIs, and for your broad views about the research-related indicators. We envisage further engagement as other areas of possible change are addressed.

8. Other indicators within the current set of UKPIs will be subject to an in-depth rolling review process which will commence in due course. This will include reviewing the current indicators relating to: 

  • widening participation of under-represented groups and of students in receipt of Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA)
  • non-continuation rates, including projected outcomes
  •  employment of leavers. 

9. Also among the recommendations accepted by UKPISG is a commitment to exploring the feasibility of broadening the UKPIs into new areas beyond those covered by the current set. UKPISG recognises that it has neither the time nor the resource available to undertake this exploratory work in parallel with conducting in-depth reviews of the current UKPIs. It also notes that on-going work in the sector may help it better understand the issues and existing measures in some of these potential new areas before taking any decisions. At this time, UKPISG considers that introduction of UKPIs in new areas is a lower priority than ensuring that the existing indicators are fit for purpose. It anticipates that exploratory work relating to new areas will not commence in the near future: it will only begin once the in-depth reviews of the existing UKPIs have been completed and you may appreciate that this in itself will take some time.

Guiding principles for UKPIs

10. Recommendation 4, as accepted by UKPISG, states that:

‘The key features of the current UKPI approach should be retained. A set of guiding principles should be developed (building on those from a 2006 review of the UKPIs) and used by the UKPISG to judge the appropriateness both of making changes to the existing UKPIs and of introducing any new UKPIs suggested for the future.’

11. Building on suggestions made by the fundamental review, UKPISG proposes the set of guiding principles listed at Annex B below. It is anticipated that these principles will be used by UKPISG to guide its governance of the UKPIs, and will become central to the future development of the UKPIs. The intended use and application of the principles is described further at Annex B.

12. We would welcome your comment on the proposed guiding principles.

Future of the research output UKPIs

13. Recommendation 5, as accepted by UKPISG, states that:

‘The current set of UKPIs should undergo a more detailed review to ensure they use the most appropriate data and have the appropriate focus to measure the specified topics, including the scope of the population covered.’

14. Feedback from the review process and from HESA have led the UKPISG to understand that the current research output UKPIs suffer from poor usage and a widespread lack of understanding. The current set of UKPIs includes four indicators of annual research output (see Table R1 of the UKPIs on the HESA website. These indicators look at numbers of PhDs awarded and amount of research grants and contracts obtained, relative to the academic staff costs of an institution and funding council allocation of quality related (QR) research funds to that institution.

15. As the first stage of its response to Recommendation 5, the steering group is considering the discontinuation of the existing measures and would welcome views from institutions as to their support or otherwise for this proposal and what might follow from it. Institutions are invited to respond to the following questions:

  1. Would you support the proposed discontinuation of the research output UKPIs (Table R1)?
  2. Would you consider that other existing measures (such as the Research Excellence Framework, performed every 6 to 7 years) are adequate for your purposes with respect to institution-level information on research activities?
  3. Alternatively, is a replacement research-related UKPI desirable?
  4. If a replacement UKPI is desirable, would your preference be to phase out the existing Table R1 measures only when new measures are available? Or would you support the discontinuation of Table R1 at the earliest opportunity, with new measures to follow in due course? (Bear in mind that this would most likely necessitate a period of time in which no UKPIs were published in relation to research activities.) 

16. Institutions are invited to note that the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed discontinuation of Table R1 is not limited to UK providers of HE. The UKPIs are Official Statistics and, in accordance with the conditions associated with Official Statistics, the UKPISG will be seeking the views of a range of relevant users and stakeholders. The questions listed above will also be asked of the governments of the four UK nations, the Research Councils and other interested bodies.

Providing feedback

17. Further information regarding the background to the fundamental review of the UKPIs, as well as some of the proposals outlined above, is available from the minutes of the meetings of UKPISG held since 2010. These minutes are available alongside the UKPIs and associated content on the HESA web-site.

18. All other enquiries, and all feedback, should be submitted to the UKPISG secretariat at ukpisg@hefce.ac.uk. Feedback should be submitted before noon on Friday 24 January 2014.

Yours sincerely

Heather Fry

Director (Education, Participation and Students)

Enquiries should be directed to:ukpisg@hefce.ac.uk

Page last updated 9 December 2013

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