Calculating student numbers

The Office for Students calculates student numbers for various regulatory purposes. These include setting OfS registration fees and assessing applications for degree awarding powers and university title.

We consulted on our approach in autumn 2018.

View this consultation

View our response to the consultation

This page contains technical information about the detailed method behind student number calculations. It is intended primarily for those who are familiar with the individualised student data we use, and who may be interested in understanding or recreating our calculations.

Methodology and technical information

Frequently asked questions

STULOAD is a field returned in both Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) and Individualised Learner Record (ILR) data to record student full-time equivalence (FTE), representing the higher education provider's best academic judgement of the student’s FTE during the reporting year from 1 August to 31 July.

1 FTE is equivalent to 100 STULOAD.

More information about reporting FTE can be found on the HESA website.

As with other students, sandwich students are counted based on the STULOAD returned to HESA. For example, students on ‘thick’ sandwich courses who complete a year in industry as part of their course will typically be counted as 1 FTE during their placement year.

Apprenticeships are counted in the same way as other courses, with the exception that any records associated with higher apprenticeships in the ILR data for providers that submit HESA data have been removed. This is to avoid double counting, as providers that submit a HESA return are required to return any records associated with higher apprenticeships to both HESA and the ILR.

The Office for Students (OfS) usually uses the data as originally submitted and signed off by a provider’s accountable officer. Subsequent amendments to data are only included exceptionally and subject to an approval process.

Find more information on data amendments

We plan on continuing to use data on an academic year basis (1 August to 31 July), even once when Data Futures is in place. We will release further information on the full effect of Data Futures on the method for counting student numbers in due course.

The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual) register can be updated at any point during the academic year.

We will take a snapshot of the Ofqual register at the beginning of each month and will use the most recent freeze of data when calculating student numbers.

No. A higher education provider in England will only be required to register with the OfS if it wishes to:

  • Access public grant funding, student support funding or both.
  • Apply to the Home Office for a Tier 4 licence, or to maintain an existing licence.
  • Apply for degree awarding powers, university title or both.

The student number calculation methodology only applies to providers that decide to register with the OfS.

The student numbers calculation is designed to reflect our regulatory remit, and therefore differs from the numbers of students who are included in our funding calculations for approved (fee cap) providers. This means that we include provision previously referred to as ‘non-prescribed’ higher education in these calculations.

Where two providers merge or one provider acquires another provider, and this is recognised by the OfS, we will count the students from both providers as belonging to the resulting provider.

For providers that have not returned individualised data to either HESA or the ESFA, we will use the student numbers provided in the financial tables submitted as part of registration to determine which registration fee band the provider falls into.

Additionally, where a provider has returned ILR data that appears not to include all of its students, we will consider using the student number data returned in the financial tables submitted as part of registration.

All registered providers will be required to submit individualised student data as a condition of registration. 

Contact us

If you have any further questions about the calculation method, please contact us at [email protected].

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