HESES multiplication factors land

More regulatory data chaos to enjoy

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

Right, so remember how we got rid of the idea of providers returning funding completion status (FUNDCOMP) back in July 2023? Of course you do – it was clearly the story of the summer, massively overshadowing the resignation of Boris Johnson.

This was all made possible via the possibilities offered by Data Futures – the idea was that getting providers to return two different sets of data on students with different definitions in quick succession was a silly one and a little bit of data magic could ease burden on providers. For this reason, HESES columns 3, 4, and 4a perished. In this transitional year, however, this would mean we would suffer from an absence of student FTE data (including non-completion forecasts).

The plan, therefore, was to derive these figures from the previous (HESES22) year of data. This would be done by a set of multipliers applied to the new (HESES23) figures based on the way things looked in the old (HESES22) figures. With student numbers and attrition rates unlikely to change much in the course of a single academic year, the day was saved.

A multiplier? So, funding allocated by OfS differs based on:

  • The level of study (undergraduate and postgraduate provision of various sorts)
  • The mode of study (full time, part time, sandwich year)
  • The subject area (via a system of price groups, and also specific allocations based on medical and related professions)
  • The length of the academic year (standard, or long)

And also takes into account

  • Funding completion (basically how many FTE students that started a funded year of study would complete it)

We know all the information in the top list based on HESES23 data, and we have an idea about the likely completion rates (which were, lest we forget, projections) from the HESES22 data. So for each possible category of fundable student, OfS have taken years of engagement from this year’s HESES and made assumptions about what the fundable FTE would be based on current mode and historic projected funded non-completion. This would generally be your own HESES22 data used to make the derivation, unless you didn’t have enough of it in which cases aggregations have been used.

To be honest this was a fudge even in a good year. It has not been a good year.

For what must be the fourth or fifth year in a row, this year has turned out to be one of change and strife in higher education – and therefore assumptions many not hold from last year. So today OfS is offering providers the opportunity to see their calculated multipliers and provide evidence to challenge them should circumstances had changed. For those keeping up at the back, the process of each individual provider recalculating these multipliers to check them is in no way at all more burdensome than just making the usual HESES return.

How would you check whether these assumptions mesh with reality? Well, your HESA Student submission might help – but with this having been delayed, and issues with the platform playing havoc with data quality (and, frankly, staff burnout and attrition), not quite so easy.

If you’ve ever laboured under the impression that we somehow know, as a nation, how many students there are or what they are studying – and that funding was allocated based on this information – I can only offer my apology.




2 responses to “HESES multiplication factors land

  1. This seems fine….[insert appropriate gif here]

    The same small statutory data teams that are still burnt out from HESA 22/23 and appreciated the ‘burden reduction’ of not needing add the work associated with FTEs and Non-Completion in their delayed HESES23 submissions will be delighted to have something to ‘fill their time’ from now until May trying to unpick this simple methodology. They’re also looking forward to adding further variety to their day once the indictive HESA student data from 22/23 arrives next month to determine whether that is ‘fit for its publication’ purpose and hoping that might uncover that a data amendment is needed before August in case boredom sets in. That leaves a nice smooth run into the ‘business as usual’ that is the 23/24 Student Return under the robust Data Futures specification/ platform between then and the end of October and against a backdrop of providers being in various stages of financial crisis and not able to invest in the significant resource (people and technology) that’s bizarrely needed for this overall reduction in burden.

    This is all being done by the same small group of individuals in various stages of PTSD recovery you say?

    What could go wrong?

    1. “What could go wrong?”

      A lot and not “could’ but “has” and “will”. HEP’s with and through Accountable Officers need to be assessing this situation and preparing a response to OfS and JISC if for no other reason than to protect the wellbeing of their staff involved in this work.

      I suspect some / many HESA compilers were happy to not return FUNDCOMP on the basis it was a reduction in burden against an overwhelming increase elsewhere, but probably understanding that this was going to cause issues later. But you can’t really blame them for looking for any relief when the OfS / JISC have created this unprecedented situation and have a policy at the moment which is to continue to ”kick the can down the road” and then institute egregious solutions when the issues around these absurd decisions are finally realised.

      I wish all working in the area good luck and good mental health.

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