External Returns

The University of Wolverhampton is required to submit various external data returns in order to operate as a Higher Education provider in the UK.

External returns are defined as any data return or submission which the University of Wolverhampton is required to make to an external body or agency.

There are several returns that are requirements of our continued registration with the Office for Students (OfS) such as the Annual Finance Record and HESES.  There are also other external regulatory bodies that collect data or require submissions from the University of Wolverhampton including the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA), Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Student Loan Company (SLC).

The frequency of submissions varies but external returns can be made monthly, quarterly and annually.

An institution will, for example, need to make returns about, its finances, the student body, its staff and the estate.


Here are some more detailed examples of the type of data that we submit to external bodies:

Aggregate Offshore Record (AOR) – Collects and reports data on overall student numbers by country, level of study, and type of study for students studying entirely outside of the UK.

Provider Profile - this shows how our teaching in academic subject areas is divided across our departments and faculties. Data is used to compare across HESA statutory returns at different institutions by matching activity, staff, students and finance across Academic cost centres. It is also used to create more meaningful benchmarking.

Higher Education Students Early Statistics survey (HESES) - this gives an early indication of actual and forecasted student numbers for the next academic year. It is produced via information extracted from the Student Records system and is used by OfS to determine teaching grant funding for programmes. It is then compared to the detailed final HESA Student Return and the ILR (Apprentices) to finalise funding.

Initial Teacher Training (ITT) - The Department for Education (DfE) requires course detail and personal information for trainees on initial teacher education courses leading to qualified teacher status.  This data is collected by HESA on behalf of the DfE through the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) record and is used for census and funding purposes.

UNISTATS - The UNISTATS record contains course information about students. It is collected to help prospective students make direct comparisons between foundation and first-degree level courses at different universities and colleges across the UK, helping them choose what and where to study.


Oversight and Scrutiny

The External Returns Assurance Framework ensures a standardised approach to the submission of Statutory Returns across the University and that we meet our external regulatory obligations.

The framework intends to ensure that all staff are clear on their roles and responsibilities and provides assurance that the submission of all returns has followed the correct checks and governance procedures, with the appropriate oversight.

The operation of the Framework is supported by the External Returns Group (ERG) and the Corporate Compliance Unit (CCU) on behalf of the University Executive Board (UEB) and Audit and Risk Committee.

All external returns are held in a central register that uses a RAG system (based on the impact and likelihood of error) to grade the different returns. The External Returns Group maintains a strategic view of all statutory returns, with a particular focus on those that are conditions for registration with the OfS, and to ensure overarching risks are managed.

What is the HESES return, and why is it required?

HESES (Higher Education Students Early Statistics) is an external statutory return of student data which is made as at a census date of 1 December each year. The return is not individualised like HESA, but is in the form of student numbers, divided into various categories. The Planning Office are responsible for making the actual return, and liaise constantly with Faculties and Student Records to ensure that the data is correct following the start of the academic year.

HESES requires the University to report on the number of active students as at 1 December, and to predict the number of students who will become active between 1 December and 31 July of the following year.  On the basis of the numbers submitted by the University, HEFCE will allocate the relevant funding for the year. This figure will be notified formally to the University in the March Grant Letter following the HESES return, but it is also calculated via the return itself, which is made via a spreadsheet.

The return requires total student numbers and full-time equivalents (FTE) to be identified within the following categories:

  • Level: Undergraduate (HND, Sub-Degree, Foundation Degree, Other UG), Postgraduate and Postgraduate Research 
  • Price Group: A Clinical Subjects, B Laboratory based, Engineering and Technology, C1 Design and Creative Arts, C2 Other intermediate cost subjects, D Other Classroom-based subjects  
  • Mode: Full-time, Sandwich and Part-time 
  • Fundability: HEFCE fundable, non-fundable, Islands/Overseas
  • The HESES return is a statutory return that is made by all Higher Education (HE) institutions to HEFCE. The return confirms, or otherwise, that the institution has achieved the student numbers that it is contracted to achieve within a given academic year. The information contained in the return (in addition to successful additional numbers bids) is also used in determining the HE institutions contracted student numbers for the forthcoming academic year.

What are the census and submission dates for the HESES return?

The census date for the HESES return is the 1st December in any given academic year. It captures information on students who are actively studying at that date, plus forecast registrations relating to students likely to commence study between the 1st December and the 31st July.

The submission date for the HESES return is normally 7 days following the census date.

What are the implications of student numbers in the HESES return not agreeing with those that an institution is contracted to achieve?

If an institution under-achieves their student numbers there is likely to be “claw-back”, where money allocated for funding is claimed back from the Institution by the Funding Council. If contracted student numbers are exceeded, the Funding Council may request that an action plan is drawn up, which will outline the institution's plans to bring student numbers back in line with those that the institution has been contracted to achieve. Recruitment of additional students may not necessarily result in additional funding from the Funding Council.

How do/can HEFCE ensure that the information contained in the HESES return is correct?

All figures returned by HESES are rechecked at the end of the academic year via the HESA return.  There is the facility within the HESA facility to recreate the HESES return from the later, HESA data. The University must account for differences between the 2 versions, where these occur.

There is a rolling programme of audits carried out by HEFCE, where HESES returns are checked and tracked back to individual students, attending specific programmes of study. The frequency of these audits is determined by a number of factors. One important factor is the consistency with which the student data, returned to the Higher Education Statistical Agency (HESA), agrees with the student numbers/ FTE recorded in the HESES return. If, for example, the number of students in the HESA return is much lower than those returned in the HESES return, it is likely that an audit will follow.

HESES 2015 Planning notes

HESES 2015 Planning processes

The HESA student return has been collected since 1994/95 and is key to the formulation of Funding, Performance Indicators, Publications (including UNISTATS) and League tables. The return collects individualised data about students active during the reporting period, including the student's entry profile and personal characteristics, module and course level data, funding information and qualifications awarded. The reporting period is from 01 August year 1 to 31 July year 2, for example, the 2000/2001 Student record was collected in respect of the activity which took place between 01 August 2000 and 31 July 2001.

The External Returns Group provides governance and oversight of the University’s data quality and management with regard to external data returns. The group also assesses the impact of the key returns on external performance measures providing analysis and recommendations for action. 

External Returns Group Wolf topic