According to the OFFA Report of Thursday 29 September 2011, almost one in four English universities and colleges failed to meet their targets for recruiting students from low-income backgrounds last year, including some of the most prestigious institutions.

There is a need for a continuous post secondary integrated individual data recording system for students and learners. There are social mobility benefits and advantages to providers and students in maintaining a single student reference number and personal learning record throughout secondary and post secondary systems.

There is also a need for greater permitted access to individual student data, enabling more direct contact between education and training providers and potential student enrolment.

The following are important factors for consideration:

  • Many widening participation initiatives, typified by AimHigher and the Resourcing Opportunities programme, have now been overtaken by the Government’s recent HE White Paper with its higher fees and extended Student Loans. Much valuable progress made through these initiatives is now at risk through widespread confusion about fees and loans.
  • Surveys by the Association of Colleges and others show considerable confusion about post secondary options. A good example is shown by support for the Labour Party’s proposed reduction of fees from £9000 to £6000, without recognising that this will not affect many loan repayments.


For most education and training, funding now follows the student. There are newly emerging retention patterns for directly funded secondary institutions like Academies and Free Schools as they seek to retain students as long as possible. More independent advice and guidance is needed for appropriate progression to Further and Higher Education Institutions, Apprenticeships and other options.  A lack of independent information prevents both students and providers from gaining “perfect knowledge” of the market.

Higher Education increased fees and an enhanced Student Loan system take effect for September 2012 enrolment. There will be similar loan availability in Further Education from September 2013. This transition from a Higher and Further Education system funded mainly through teaching grants to a system based on loans means that institutions will be funded by the individual decisions of thousands of students. The Student Loan Company will replace HEFCE and the Skills Funding Agency as the largest post secondary funding organisation.

Except where a local or regional continuation of AimHigher or widening participation services may incorporate this, there seems little current prospect of developing a wide reaching independent advisory and guidance service, which includes finance, for potential students. This is not a function for UCAS. The National Union of Students and Clearing Banks have so far shown some reluctance to become involved.  One way of filling this significant gap may be to enable individual direct approaches by enrolling institutions to potential students, as part of a clearly defined system, provided that appropriate consents are in place.

Currently, detailed contact between students and institutions happens only during later stages of the Higher Education admission process. Apart from a student consent procedure and the lack of a defined system, there are attendant data integration issues to overcome.


Secondary Level Data

Though most school students acquire a lifelong Unique Learner Number at age 14 neither this nor any Personal Learning Record currently accompanies the learner during the admission process through Further Education into Higher Education. Data from secondary schools, including outcomes is maintained by the local authority, Department for Education and the Universities and College Admissions Service. Though some secondary education progression data are derived from these, this may not include all qualifications, such as BTEC , International GCSE and equivalent qualifications which will become increasingly important with more progression from Further to Higher Education often within the same institution or provider partnership.

Further Education Data

If HE students enrol on courses at a Further Education or other post secondary institutions, this data will be held on the Individual Learner Record maintained by The Data Centre and used by the Skills Funding Agency.  The ILR is part of an elaborate system used to assist eligibility information on funding and access to a wide range of qualifications in the Learning Aim Database based on the Qualifications and Credit Framework. This is also linked to data provided by Awarding Organisations. Expansion of this integrated and self contained system was developed under the Learning and Skills Council, without linkages to other systems, alongside mapping of appropriate QCF qualifications. Though HESA can access some ILR data, this is not portable into HE or used as part of the HE admissions process.

Portability of this information and its access by providers and funders also raises issues for lifelong learning, workforce and employer engagement (including for funding), franchising and collaborative provision with FE and other providers and co funding and bespoke provision. A recent example is the substantial record keeping system being used by the National Apprenticeship Service. Employers have complained that their own data on apprentices does not match that required by National Apprenticeship Service. If a single ULN/Personal Record system could be extended, including adequate consent procedures for access, this might enable more smaller employers to participate in apprenticeships.

To overcome these difficulties, considerable work has been done by the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions Programme and others to increase data portability of the Unique Leaner Number and Personal Leaner Record into Higher Education admissions. But less progress has been made toward portability of FE Individual Learning Record data.

Policy and Requirements 

The Schwartz Report in 2004 made recommendations for good admission practice. Schwartz Principle 1 highlights:

 “..detailed criteria for admission to courses, along with an explanation of admissions processes. …a general indication of the weight given to prior academic achievement and potential demonstrated by other means. The latest available information should also be provided about the entry qualifications of applicants accepted on each course, and procedures for complaints and appeals”

Section B4 of the Report also stated that the Policy should make clear the Institution’s interpretation of ‘merit’ and the importance of having ‘Clear lines of responsibility’ for ‘Policy and processes’ to ensure institution-wide consistency, feedback and clear complaints and appeals procedures.

The Quality Assurance Agency Code of Practice in 2006 reinforced this:

“1. Institutions have policies and procedures for the recruitment and admission of students to higher education that are fair, clear and explicit and are implemented consistently.

 “2. Institutions’ policies and procedures that reflect the admissions process in its entirety for all categories of student, including full and part-time undergraduate and postgraduate study, will help to demonstrate that policies and procedures are fair and can be implemented consistently”

Though these represent a firm policy foundation for progress, they need further development.

Aggregated Data 

Some steps have already been taken to interpret these processes. For September 2012 enrolment UCAS is making available to requesting institutions information on average school performance in A to C GCSEs, QCA points per A level and per entrant, Free School Meals, percentages of pupils entitled to EMAs (and perhaps bursaries to follow) and those living in areas with low progression to HE. But this aggregated school and progression data does not identify individual student disadvantage. Though this information may be linked to applicants, only when individual applications are made to an institution is some aggregated information linked individually.  It may not be accessed by HE institutions before the application process.

The ACORN system categorises residence for UK postcodes using census and lifestyle data. An interesting comment is that political parties now purchase this kind of data to identify which households might be canvassed. Surely this means that similar data might be available by UCAS, FE and HE providers?

Further exploration is also needed on progression to HE data and from age 11 to FE. Socio economic class is currently self declared information collected by UCAS during the UCAS Apply process. Though up to 30% of applicants do not respond, socio economic data is collected by UCAS but not supplied to HEIs until a place has been offered.  Unless made available earlier, this data needs to be relevant in a system driven by individual choice and Student Loans.  It would be better if this information were available, with appropriate consents, to institutions either before commencement of or earlier in the application process.


Self Declared Data

From applicants’ self declaration, the following are made available to the HEI with the application data:

  • disability, special needs or medical condition
  • previous access to Higher Education in student’s family
  • information about time spent in care up to three months
  • preparation activities for Higher Education, including taster and booster courses.


From applicants’ self declaration, the following are made available to the HEI with the application:

  • ethnic origin of UK applicants
  • family occupational background


This data is available after applications are made and may be used for OFFA monitoring and evaluation.

A Common Basket of Data

SPA has made valuable progress in securing agreement on a “Common Basket of Data”. This will provide HEIs with economies and resource savings for individual institutions to minimise current duplication of effort:

Educational Background 
  • Progression rates to higher education (percentage determined by cohort size) from school/college
  • School performance – Average (mean) school GCSE performance for 5 A*-C GCSE (including English/Welsh and Mathematics)*
  • Average (mean) school ‘Best Eight’ GCSE performance
  • Progression from Year 11 to further education
  • Average (mean) of QCA points per qualification (per entry and per student)
Socio-Economic Background
  • In receipt of (or entitled to) free school meal (school rates and individual)
  • In receipt of (or entitled to) an Educational Maintenance Allowance (including levels)
  • Lives in a low progression to higher education neighbourhood
  • Socio-economic class IIIM-VII
  • Have been in care for greater than six months

New Developments in Fees and Loans

All this represents good progress and widespread agreement on collection and need for data, typified by work on the Realising Opportunities programme and with the Russell Group and 1994 Group, But this widespread agreement on data collection and harmonisation is in danger of being overtaken by largescale confusion over fees and Student Loans. For FE and HE providers, information will be available too late in the application process for optimum use during a new admission process.

A single learner record following the student throughout the system, allowing permitted access by appropriate providers at various stages, is needed to inform, guide and provide support for students through an exceedingly complex maze which will take some years to be understand and used optimally by students and providers.