Learning gain

The learning gain research project looked at how to measure improvements in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time in higher education.

Measurements would allow universities and colleges to understand the effect of different teaching practices and therefore improve the support available to students.

The programme objectives were to: 

  • promote activity and dialogue across the sector on learning gain
  • identify methods for measuring learning gain
  • develop sector-wide agreed, common characterisations of learning gain
  • share experiences on the use of learning gain to enhance teaching and learning.

The programme was initiated by one of our predecessor organisations, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). It concluded in 2019 and no further research into learning gain is currently planned.

Programme activities

  • Pilot projects
    Over 70 universities and colleges were involved in 13 collaborative projects to pilot and evaluate a range of approaches for measuring learning gain.
  • National Mixed Methodology Learning Gain (NMMLG) project
    Using a range of pre-trialled tools and survey instruments, this project tracked the learning gain of a group of more than 31,000 undergraduate students in 10 higher education institutions.
  • Higher Education Learning Gain Analysis (HELGA)
    This strand of the learning gain programme investigated the potential for using existing data on the student experience to identify what it tells us about learning gain.

More information

Additional information on HEFCE’s learning gain programme, including details of the pilot projects, is also available on the National Archives website.

View the HEFCE archives


The development of the learning gain programme was supported by a steering group and an expert group, who offered advice and guidance.

The steering group provided advice and guidance to the programme, and included representatives from across the sector in England. 


  • Sue Rigby, Vice-Chancellor, Bath Spa University (Chair)
  • Hannah Sketchley, Policy Engagement Manager, National Union of Students
  • James Zuccollo, Director, Education Policy Institute
  • William Hammonds, Programme Manager, Policy Group, Universities UK
  • Janice Kay, Provost and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor, University of Exeter
  • Yvonne Hawkins, Director of Teaching Excellent and Student Experience, Office for Students
  • Geoff Stoakes, Head of Research, Higher Education Academy
  • Cliff Allan, Chair of Learning Gain Expert Group


  • Camille Kandiko-Howson, Senior Lecturer (Higher Education), Kings College London
  • Penny Keeling, student, Newman University

The expert group enabled us to draw on independent technical expertise when developing activities in the area of learning gain. Members provided guidance on:

  • conceptualising, constructing and testing measures of learning gain
  • selecting datasets and variables for the development and construction of learning gain measures
  • statistical techniques for constructing and validating measures of learning gain
  • reporting results in a clear, understandable and unbiased manner.


  • Cliff Allan (Chair)
  • Paul Ashwin, Head of Educational Research Department, University of Lancaster
  • Steven Jones, Senior Lecturer, University of Manchester
  • Dave Thomson, Chief Statistician, FFT
  • Alison Judd, Department for Education
  • George Leckie, Reader in Social Statistics, University of Bristol
  • Tim Birtwistle, Professor Emeritus, Leeds Beckett University
  • Claire Crawford, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Warwick
Last updated 20 July 2022
20 July 2022
Minor updates to reflect that the learning gain programme has concluded.

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