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Title:  Key Information Set: publication of technical guidance and further information
To:  Heads of HEFCE-funded higher education institutions
Heads of HEFCE-funded further education colleges
Heads of universities in Northern Ireland
Heads of non-publicly funded institutions in England that subscribe to QAA
Of interest to those responsible for:  Quality assurance, quality enhancement, learning and teaching, web-site management, student data
Reference:  Circular letter 23/2011
Publication date:  30 September 2011
Enquiries to:  Louisa Baker, tel 0117 931 7106, e-mail kis@hefce.ac.uk
Richard Puttock, tel 0117 931 7472, e-mail kis@hefce.ac.uk
HESA's Institutional Liaison, tel 01242 211144, e-mail liaison@hesa.ac.uk

Dear Vice-Chancellor or Principal

Key Information Set: publication of technical guidance and further information

1.   This circular letter notifies you that HESA has now published the technical guidance on the production of the KIS that your institution requires to enable it to make progress towards meeting the publication deadline for KISs of September 2012 (see www.hesa.ac.uk/C12061).

2.   It also provides details of the further preparatory work HEFCE and partners have undertaken about development of the Key Information Set (KIS). In particular it details the outcomes of work undertaken since the publication of the joint HEFCE/Universities UK (UUK)/GuildHE 'Provision of information about higher education: Outcomes of consultation and next steps' (HEFCE 2011/18). The letter includes:

  • key outcomes of discussions with representative bodies prior to and informing the publication of the KIS technical guidance, including a timetable for data collection.
  • an invitation to institutions to seek clarification on the clarity and completeness of this guidance where necessary, which should be directed to HESA
  • outcomes from the KIS technical Expert Working Group (EWG)
  • plans for the publication of the KIS including a mock-up of the proposed 'widget'.


3.   Since the publication of HEFCE 2011/18, the Government has issued the White Paper 'Students at the Heart of the System'. Following this we published our strategy statement, 'Opportunity, choice and excellence' (HEFCE 2011/22), which sets out the principles, priorities and practices that will guide HEFCE as we work with Government, representative bodies, universities, colleges and other partners to implement the reforms outlined in the White Paper.

4.   Ensuring prospective students have information to enable them to make informed choices about higher education has long been a priority and will be an important element in the success of the reforms outlined in the White Paper. The KIS is crucial to this and we are pleased that the White Paper recognised the work of HEFCE, UUK and GuildHE in taking this work forward, and the National Union of Students (NUS) for its active support.

5.   Following a programme of research and development, which included research into the information needs of potential students, a consultation, pilots, and EWGs, we are now working towards the implementation of the KIS in September 2012 as per the government timetable.

6.   As noted in the outcomes report (HEFCE 2011/18), a KIS will be needed for all undergraduate courses planned for 2013-14 delivered by higher education institutions (HEIs) or further education colleges (FECs) or non-publicly funded providers of higher education programmes that subscribe to the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)1. Any exceptions to this general rule are noted in the technical guidance. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Technical Consultation on the proposed new regulatory framework for the higher education sector2 discusses the extent to which all providers of higher education that are designated for student support funding might be expected to meet requirements in respect of information for students, including in formats such as the KIS. Further information on how the KIS might apply to a wider group of institutions and organisations will be made available as and when any new arrangements are clarified.

7.   The White Paper also asked the Higher Education Public Information Steering Group (HEPISG), which oversees the development of information about higher education for the public, to consider the following new areas of work:

  1. Whether data on how graduate contributions are being spent should form part of the wider set of information that institutions provide to prospective students.
  2. What the information needs are for taught postgraduate students, including consideration of whether a National Student Survey (NSS) should be introduced for these students.

HEPISG will consider these areas of work over the coming months and we will publish further information next year.

Technical guidance

8.   Some of the KIS information items are sourced from national data sets, such as the NSS and the Destination of Leavers from Higher Education (DLHE) survey. However, data on learning and teaching activities, assessment methods, financial support and accommodation costs, together with the information that allows linking to the HESA and ILR records and UCAS courses data will be collected from all institutions by HEFCE3 for the first year (that is, for KISs published in September 2012). From the second year onwards (that is for KISs published from September 2013 onwards), HESA will collect these data for HEIs. We are working closely with the Information Authority to determine the best route for continuing collection of these data from FECs and others. Therefore we have worked closely with HESA, informed by an EWG, to develop the technical guidance so that institutions can consistently collate data for publication in the KIS. This guidance has been published on the HESA web-site today.

9.   It is not intended to substantially revise this technical guidance as it has been agreed on the basis of the earlier research and subsequent consultation. However, we recognise that institutions will identify cases where the guidance is unclear or does not fully address some issues. Therefore, we invite institutions to raise queries relating to the clarity and completeness of this guidance in order to inform two further updates, in December 2011 and March 2012. The March 2012 release will constitute the final guidance for the collection of data for the September 2012 KIS.

10.   We stress that there is no intention to revisit core content or specification of the 2012 KIS. The aim is, rather, to refine the guidance to ensure it is clear and enables institutions to provide the data on a consistent basis to best meets the needs and interests of prospective students.

11.   If you wish to provide comments on the guidance or if you have any queries please contact HESA's institutional liaison in the first instance on 01242 211144, e-mail liaison@hesa.ac.uk.

Key Information Set Expert Working Groups

12.   Four expert groups were established during the consultation and their outcomes are available. Following the work of these groups, we established a technical EWG which has done further work to determine how data will be published on the KIS.

13.   When making decisions regarding the categories of data and how they should be presented on the KIS, the KIS technical EWG had three guiding principles:

  • simplicity
  • consistency between different institutions and between different models or types of provision
  • the ability to verify the data.

14.   The technical EWG considered:

  • calculation of learning and teaching and assessment methods
  • categorisation of learning and teaching and assessment methods
  • presentation of joint honours courses
  • the draft technical guidance.

15.   The outcomes of this work informed the definitions set out in the technical guidance.

16.   Annex A provides the membership of the technical EWG.

Plans for the publication of the KIS

17.   Providing information to students in a way that is useful to them, and in places that they want it, is at the heart of the KIS developments. Research undertaken by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University4 confirmed that potential students look at institutions' web-sites and the UCAS web-site when looking for information about what and where to study.

18.   Therefore, the KIS will be available to potential students in the following ways:

  1. Published 'in context' on the web-sites of universities and colleges via a KIS 'widget'. This is a small graphic with three pieces of information from the KIS, specifically about the course the user is viewing (see Annex B for a mock-up of what the widget might look like). Detail of the data to be included in the widget and the approach to be adopted where initial information is not available will be published in due course. When a user clicks on the widget they are presented with the full KIS information for that course (see www.hefce.ac.uk/learning/infohe/kis for a mock-up of what the full KIS might look like5). We are aware that institutions will need to incorporate this widget into their plans for the development of their web-sites, so we are currently discussing plans with IT providers and will publish further details early next year.
  2. On a new official web-site that enables users to search and compare both KIS and Unistats data. The Unistats web-site has been available to potential students since 2007, providing the opportunity to compare and search for subjects. Given the report from Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, which identified the information that students were specifically interested in, we now wish to use this as a basis to develop a new web-site that incorporates the KIS data and Unistats data. This will ensure that potential students can view the KIS data and other information that is currently available on Unistats about the courses they are interested in. The Unistats site will close from September 2012, when a new official web-site will be launched. HEPISG is overseeing this work and further details will be published early next year.
  3. On the redeveloped UCAS course search tool (Course Finder), which will incorporate the KIS data so users can view the data at the same time as viewing the courses they are interested in. Further information on the changes that UCAS is planning to its course search tool are available from coursefinderfeedback@ucas.ac.uk.
  4. Through comparison web-sites and facilities provided by other organisations. The KIS data set will be freely available to other organisations to use within their own products.

Further guidance for prospective students and explanatory notes on use of the KIS are being developed. This work is also being overseen by the HEPISG.

19.   We expect KISs to be published according to where a course is delivered, regardless of funding arrangements. The principle follows that each student is recorded, for the purposes of Unistats, against the institution in which they studied in their first year. Therefore registering institutions should make their partners aware of their responsibilities in relation to the KIS (see paragraphs 81-83 of HEFCE 2011/18).

Deadlines and timescales

20.   Table 1 presents the timeline of action required for the creation of KISs for courses running in the academic year 2013-14. The absolute publication deadline is September 2012.

Table 1 Timeline for the creation and publication of the 2012 KIS

Date Action
June 2011 Timeline for the creation and publication of the 2012 KIS
September 2011Publication of technical guidance available on HESA web-site (see www.hesa.ac.uk/C12061).
December 2011 Publication of updated technical guidance available on HESA web-site.
22 February/1 March 2012HESA training seminars (see www.hesa.ac.uk/seminars).
February/March 2012Submission system opens and validation kits issued for KISs to be published in September 2012. Institutions will have until August 2012 to finalise their data. The system will remain open throughout this period to allow institutions to manage their workloads and undertake quality assurance work.
March 2012Publication of final update to technical guidance available HESA web-site.
July 2012NSS and DLHE 2012 data added by HEFCE to KIS submissions.
August 2012 Final deadline for submission of KIS data and sign off by head of institution.
Institutions will be able to preview their full KIS data at this point.
September 2012 Institutions preview new official web-site with KIS and associated widgets.
New official web-site goes live; Unistats web-site closes.
KIS widgets to be embedded and visible on all institutional web-sites.
UCAS to include KIS data into course search web-site.
October 2012 KIS system re-opens for updates to September 2012 KISs, where necessary, for example to confirm fee information. Updates will be routinely published via the KIS widgets and official web-site.

Quality assurance

21.   Quality assurance of the KIS data will be the responsibility of institutions. Due to the scale of the data neither HEFCE in the first year or HESA in subsequent years6 will undertake the scrutiny of the data that is commonplace with other HESA data streams; rather HEFCE or HESA will supply institutions with summary reports from the data, and they will have the opportunity to preview the KIS before sign-off and undertake quality assurance.

22.   The new system of institutional review introduced from the start of 2011-12 will review the academic quality and standards in higher education institutions in England and Northern Ireland. From 2012-13 a new judgement will be introduced on the information that institutions publish. Until that point the information that institutions publish will continue to be subject to a comment in institutional review but not a judgement.

23.   Following discussion it was agreed that, from academic year 2012-13:

  1. The institutional review will include the following judgement: the public information provided by the institution is commended/meets national expectations/requires improvement to meet national expectations/does not meet national expectations.
  2. The focus of the new judgement will be on the completeness, currency, reliability and accessibility of the information provided by institutions and on the usefulness of the information to potential students, employers and the wider public. Importantly, the information considered by QAA will be much wider than just the KIS. Reviewers will not be expected to make a judgement on the accuracy of the detailed information in the KIS, much of which is subject to its own data audit methods (see paragraphs 25 and 26 below).
  3. The revised institutional review handbook will clarify how each of the judgement grades will be determined. The joint UUK/GuildHE/HEFCE Quality in Higher Education Group (QHEG) will consider a draft of the relevant sections of the handbook in December 2011, before its publication by QAA in January 2012. Work is also in hand on the arrangements for the review of higher education in further education colleges to replace the existing process of Integrated Quality and Enhancement Review as that draws to a close this year. It is anticipated that the new method for review of higher education in further education colleges from 2012-13 will incorporate a judgement on public information on the same basis.
  4. Expectations will be defined in a new section of the UK Quality Code for higher education relating to public information (Part C). The Code will also refer to specific national requirements for example, the KIS and wider information set (see HEFCE 2011/18 for more information on the wider information set). It will also go beyond these, taking a 'student lifecycle' approach to the provision of information. QAA expects to consult on Part C of the Quality Code in November-December 2011, before publishing it in March 2012.


24.   HEFCE reserves the right to audit any of the information and data used to support the KIS.

25.   Following the first publication of KISs we intend to carry out audits at a selection of institutions to assess the accuracy of the information included in KISs.

Next steps

26.   All eligible higher education providers are invited to review the technical guidance and put arrangements in place for the provision of the required information within the timescales indicated. Any comments on the technical guidance or areas where further guidance is needed should be provided/sought as outlined above.

27.   All eligible higher education providers should provide a contact that we can liaise with on the provision of KIS data. Please e-mail these details to kis@hefce.ac.uk. Please note that these contact details will be passed to the organisation that administers the KIS collection for 2013.

28.   We will issue a further circular letter early in 2012 providing further details of the plans for publication of the KIS widget and the development of the new KIS/Unistats web-site.

Yours sincerely

Sir Alan Langlands
Chief Executive



[ Download Annexes as Adobe PDF 14K | Download Annex A as MS Word 411K ]


  1. We have written separately to non-publicly funded institutions in England that subscribe to QAA regarding their inclusion in the KIS.
  2. 'A new, fit-for-purpose regulatory framework for the higher education sector: technical consultation' (Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, August 2011) is available on the BIS web-site.
  3. To minimise the burden on institutions, we will collect information on financial support directly from UCAS, which is redeveloping its course search web-site and will be collecting fee information from institutions. For courses that do not recruit through UCAS we will collect financial support information directly from institutions as part of the KIS collection.
  4. 'Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education: Report to HEFCE by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University', August 2010, available on the HEFCE web-site.
  5. This mock-up was designed before the technical guidance was developed and therefore does not incorporate all of these changes. In addition, it does not incorporate the outcomes of the user testing that will be undertaken in the development of the new official web-site.
  6. We are working closely with the Information Authority to determine the best route for continuing collection of these data from FECs.