Methodology

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Reporting in Higher Education Providers

Published

Data Collection

From 20 October 2020 the Office for Students (OfS) has collected data on coronavirus (COVID-19) from Higher Education Providers (HEPs) on behalf of the Department for Education through their COVID-19 reporting tool.

All English HEPs registered on the Office for Students Register as at 20 October 2020 were asked to make a return, with the exception of further education colleges. HEPs registering with the OfS after 20 October were not invited to submit during the period covered by this report.  Of the 237 HEPs in scope, 212 have made at least one submission. This includes all of the larger traditional universities as well as newer, specialist or private HEPs. The HEPs who have not made a submission are small. 

HEPs are asked to provide information on:

  • Numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases known to them.
  • Staff and student headcounts.
  • Estimates for numbers of students known to be self-isolating at the time of each submission.
  • Further contextualising information including the current DfE higher education tier of restriction. These items are defined in the terminology section in the annex.

The data return is not compulsory and the number of HEPs returning each week varies. This was a particular issue at the start of the Spring term as term start dates differ across HEPs. In addition, the first submission by a HEP in the Spring term includes any confirmed cases covering the winter break period (where known to the HEP). This first submission for the term therefore inflates the weekly figures. 113 HEPs made their first Spring term return in the week to 6 January, 64 made their first Spring term return in the week to 13 January, and 6 HEPs made their first Spring term return in the week to 20 January. This issue did not arise in the Autumn term because HEPs submitted a separate ‘baseline’ return for their first return (see ‘Baseline data’).

HEPs individually collate known confirmed cases for staff and students and report these to DfE using the Office for Students COVID-19 reporting tool. It is possible for staff and students to report more than 1 positive test result and it is not clear if HEPs carry out any de-duplication when they report the data. No further de-duplication can be carried out once the HEP has returned their data.

HEPs are asked to report all confirmed cases known to them. Where HEPs have operated their own testing programmes and recorded positive results, these cases will be included in these statistics. Where individuals do not report the results of tests to their HEP (for example, those taken at community centres or at home) any positive cases identified will not be included.

Baseline Data

HEPs were asked to provide baseline information in their first return. This covered headcounts for staff (academic and non-academic), students and total confirmed COVID-19 cases known to each HEP between 1 August 2020 and the date of their first submission. 

Ongoing data submissions

Following their initial submission, HEPs were asked to submit daily, Monday to Friday, returning information relating to the previous day, with Monday’s return covering the previous Friday, Saturday and Sunday. From 1 February HEPs have been asked to submit information twice weekly. In these returns HEPs submit on Monday (covering the previous Thursday to Sunday) and Thursday (covering the previous Monday to Wednesday). If a HEP fails to submit on one or more scheduled days, their next return should include the total of all known confirmed cases since their last return.

Validation

The OfS COVID-19 reporting tool includes some automated validation checks, some of which prevent submission while others advise the respondent to check their submission.

Additional data checks are carried out after submission to identify potentially erroneous returns, which are then queried with respondents.

Response Rates

Weekly Response Rate

This is calculated as the proportion of HEPs who have submitted at least one return through the OfS COVID-19 reporting tool during the week in question.

Non-Response and Contextualisation

Due to the diverse nature of higher education HEPs, which are highly variable in terms of student numbers and teaching facilities, we do not currently adjust for non-response. The statistics are representative only of the HEPs that have made a return for any given time period. We therefore contextualise each statistic with the number or proportion of HEPs returning data.

Reporting Weeks

For the purpose of this publication we define a ‘reporting week’ as the period from Thursday to the following Wednesday. The first reporting week is 29 October to 4 November 2020. We do not present weekly totals for data collected between 20 October and 28 October due to data quality issues in the first few days of the collection. These were resolved with an update to the OfS COVID-19 reporting tool that was made available to HEPs from 27 October. Confirmed cases reported between 20 and 28 October are included in the grand total. 

Data Corrections

HEPs can make retrospective corrections to their data when they submit data returns. The numbers reported in this publication relate to data submitted by 8 April 2021. HEPs may have made revisions to their data since then and may make revisions in future returns.

Confirmed Cases

Total Confirmed Cases Reported

This represents the total number of confirmed cases known to all HEPs and reported between 1 August 2020 and 8 April 2021. It is the sum of the confirmed cases reported in the baseline and the confirmed cases reported in each daily return up to and including those relating to 7 April 2021. 

Total cases for the Autumn term cover the period to 21 December 2020 and total cases for the Spring term cover the period 22 December to 7 April. In their first return, HEPs provide baseline information. This baseline includes total confirmed cases between the period from 1 August 2020 to the date of their first submission. We include all baseline cases in our estimate for the Autumn term total even if the date of first submission falls within the Spring term. Almost all providers made their first return in the Autumn term, but 7 new providers joined the collection in the Spring term. This means that the Autumn term total is slightly inflated (and the Spring term total correspondingly deflated) by any baseline cases at these providers that actually relate to the period between 21 December and the date of their first submission.

There was a pause in collection from 17 December to 4 January (although some providers continued to submit). Providers' first submission in January included any known cases detected during the winter break December, so the Spring term total may be inflated by any cases occurring between 17 December and 21 December (and the Autumn term total correspondingly deflated).

For these reasons the Autumn and Spring term totals should be considered as estimates only.

Weekly Confirmed Cases

This represents the total number of known confirmed cases reported by all HEPs during the reporting week. 

We make no adjustment to account for HEPs failing to submit a daily return. This has the following implication.

Effect of Missing Data Returns (example)

  HEP AHEP B
Reporting Week 1Thur2020
 Fri-Sun6060
 Mon2020
 Tue2020
 Wed20 
 Wk 1 Total140120
    
Reporting Week 2Thur2040
 Fri-Sun6060
 Mon2020
 Tue2020
 Wed2020
 Wk 2 Total140160

In this example, HEPs A and B each record 20 confirmed cases per day. HEP A makes all required data returns and records 140 cases for reporting week 1 and reporting week 2. HEP B did not make a return for the Wednesday of reporting week 1, but included Wednesday’s cases in the return for Thursday. This has the effect of depressing HEP B’s total for reporting week 1 and inflating it for reporting week 2.

Estimated COVID-19 Case Rates per 100,000

We estimate weekly case rates for both staff and students. Only those HEPs which have returned both:

  • valid case numbers within the 7-day period, and
  • a valid student or staff headcount at any point

are included in the rate estimate. Where HEPs have submitted multiple headcounts, we take the most recent value submitted before the end of the 7-day period.

The estimated staff rate is the total number of confirmed staff cases at the HEPs in scope divided by the total staff headcount at those HEPs and multiplied by 100,000. 

The estimated student rate is the total number of confirmed student cases at the HEPs in scope divided by the total student headcount at those HEPs and multiplied by 100,000. 

These rates underestimate the true rate, because they assume that all students report every positive test result to their HEP. This may not be true in all cases, and in particular we expect that students not in attendance at their HEP are unlikely to report cases. For this reason, we provide rate estimates for term 1 (when students were more likely to be attending their HEP) but not for term 2 (when HEPs limited student return to in person learning in line with DfE guidance).

Estimated rates for both staff and students are rounded to 1 decimal place.

Estimates for Number of Students Self-isolating

In the Autumn term, HEPs were only asked to report an estimate of the number of students self-isolating if they self-identified as having had more than 25 new confirmed cases in the previous 7 days (although some HEPs returned an estimate voluntarily). In the Spring term, all HEPs were asked to report this estimate.

For HEPs who have reported more than one estimate in the reporting week, we take the most recent reported estimate for each and sum to produce a sector summary. We present the number of HEPs making an estimate in each reporting week to contextualise the estimates.

The data quality of this item is limited because HEPs have advised us that they have incomplete knowledge of numbers self-isolating, and sometimes report ranges of possible values. In these cases, we report the upper bound of the range as overall figures are presumed to be an underestimate.

Due to these data quality issues, published figures are rounded to the nearest hundred, providing an indication of overall numbers and relative change through time but are not considered to be robust below this level.

Higher Education Tiers of Restriction

Higher Education HEPs in England are subject to education tiers of restriction relating to teaching provision, ranging from Tier 1 (default position with blended learning including in person) to Tier 4 (the majority of provision should be online). For a full explanation of these tiers please see the ‘Higher education: reopening buildings and campuses’ guidance

For HEPs that have reported a tier of restriction at any time during the reporting week, we take the most recent reported tier and aggregate to produce a sector summary. HEPs who did not submit a tier of restriction during the reporting week are excluded from the counts. Where a HEP has multiple locations with differing tier levels, the maximum reported tier is used.

We do not report HE tiers of restriction for the Spring term because the national lockdown from 6 January and updated DfE guidance for HEPs supersedes the tiered restrictions in place during the Autumn term.

Estimate of number of students eligible to return to in person teaching

During the Spring term, students were in scope to return to in person teaching in two tranches.

Based on analysis of the 2019/20 HESA student record and excluding distance learners and students studying wholly abroad, DfE estimate that in England out of 1,895,350 students:

  • approximately 19% of students were enrolled on courses in the subjects in scope for face to face learning from January (as set out in the DfE guidance).
  • approximately 49% of students were enrolled on ‘practical’ courses in scope for face to face learning from 8 March.

For the purpose of estimation, Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) codes were used to identify subjects in scope for in person teaching.  The DfE guidance on student returns in the Spring term identified a set of subjects related to key categories (medicine and dentistry, subjects allied to medicine/health, veterinary science, education (initial teacher training), and social work) for which providers could consider a return to in person teaching from the start of term. DfE's updated guidance on the further return of students from 8 March did not give a list of specific practical or practice-based courses to which students could return, given providers are best-placed to determine which of their courses require in-person teaching and which could reasonably continue online.

The HECoS codes used for this analysis are listed in Annex B.

Annexes

Annex A: Terminology

HEP – Higher Education Provider. 

Case – ‘Cases’ reported in this publication are confirmed cases known to HEPs and reported through the Office for Students COVID-19 reporting tool for both staff and students. To be ‘confirmed’, a case should have been identified following a positive COVID-19 test result (polymerase chain reaction test (PCR)  only up to 24th January, and PCR or lateral flow test from 25th January).

Staff headcount - defined as all academic and non-academic staff according to the definition given by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), excluding ‘atypical’ staff.

Student headcount - defined as all students registered with the HEP that are currently in the UK and would, if not for the current pandemic, be attending in person.

PCR test - polymerase chain reaction test

LFD – Lateral Flow Device

Annex B: HECoS codes for Estimates of Students in Scope to Return

Due to COVID-19, in line with DfE guidance, not all students were in scope to return to in person teaching in the Spring term.

In January students on courses which had to be delivered in person and which supported the pipeline of future critical key workers (eg nursing, medicine, teacher training) were eligible. More students were in scope to return from 8 March and these included students studying all other subjects with a practical or practice based element (eg creative arts, science).

Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) codes were used for internal DfE estimates of the approximate proportion of students that would be eligible for return to in person teaching in each of the tranches using the 2019/20 HESA student record. The codes associated with each tranche are listed below.

HECoS codes for January return (Tranche 1)HECoS codes for March return (Tranche 2)
100270101329
100267101291
100271101332
100276101317
101334100233
101336100235
100748100739
101339100236
101338100237
101337101340
101331100239
101309101375
101327100495
100261100254
101324100260
101325100265
100131101382
100266100912
100268100272
100275100274
100290100345
100279100346
100281100848
100285101318
100295101457
100293100347
100288100864
100280101459
100283100348
100287100849
100286100351
100746100850
100282101458
100284100906
101333100909
100747100822
100289100881
100291100911
100292100907
100294100353
100250100872
100277100826
100251100873
100246100874
101289100910
100273101376
100749101460
100750100355
100255100937
100744100880
100247100829
101511100834
100036100882
100037100883
101335100356
100248101378
101290100901
100252100898
100234100902
100241101377
100242100344
101241100948
100243100949
100253101380
100129100354
100132100932
101330101373
101320100343
100249100865
100257100858
100264100847
100540101319
100258100433
100038101379
100262100095
100259100096
100899100098
100900100475
100352101384
100350101461
101347100908
100531100938
101220100939
100532100942
100941100427
100523100580
101243101060
101210101068
100126100416
100127101071
100128101223
101307101391
100501101061
100503100577
100456101076
100476101390
100473100430
100486100419
100459101077
100508101075
100507100425
100510101300
100509101074
100511101396
101246100579
100512100426
101087100431
101085100414
101277100415
 101103
 101102
 100413
 101038
 100417
 101042
 101044
 101045
 101041
 101043
 101046
 100420
 101054
 100422
 101389
 100423
 101050
 101053
 100424
 100384
 101222
 101219
 100386
 100388
 100392
 100390
 100391
 100160
 100182
 100184
 100429
 100192
 100190
 100201
 100109
 100211
 100110
 100193
 100202
 100170
 100205
 100206
 100152
 100209
 100213
 101398
 101397
 100428
 100114
 100115
 100564
 100229
 100117
 100116
 100207
 100568
 101216
 100005
 100138
 100130
 100572
 100120
 100148
 100548
 100180
 100549
 101048
 100551
 100156
 100565
 100157
 100153
 100219
 100154
 101399
 100539
 100162
 100166
 101355
 100546
 100163
 100164
 100581
 101354
 101353
 100165
 100553
 100168
 100177
 101234
 100169
 100118
 100188
 100159
 100141
 100135
 100143
 100175
 100176
 100172
 100178
 100144
 100183
 100204
 100185
 101013
 100573
 100550
 100212
 100155
 100566
 101217
 100545
 100203
 100033
 100210
 100145
 100214
 100544
 100194
 100134
 100136
 100137
 100139
 100222
 100186
 100093
 100560
 100230
 101356
 100225
 100409
 101352
 101070
 100408
 101064
 101394
 101079
 101058
 101065
 100410
 101091
 101067
 101407
 100671
 100665
 100469
 101408
 100478
 100668
 100669
 100666
 101078
 100381
 101072
 100986
 100369
 101056
 101104
 101351
 100379
 100394
 101106
 100380
 101093
 101084
 101083
 101082
 101086
 100395
 100396
 101089
 101073
 100418
 100382
 100421
 100398
 101105
 101081
 100583
 100121
 100122
 100147
 100216
 100584
 100585
 100149
 100150
 100151
 100586
 100825
 100217
 100590
 100124
 100588
 100196
 100197
 100593
 100198
 100199
 100594
 100659
 100655
 100662
 100466
 100654
 100455
 100457
 100653
 101361
 101362
 100587
 100059
 100589
 100595
 100592
 100003
 100048
 100052
 100054
 100055
 100633
 100060
 100061
 100062
 100636
 101316
 100050
 100051
 100630
 100632
 100375
 100071
 101450
 100854
 100650
 100867
 100674
 100842
 101447
 100661
 100639
 100843
 100870
 100656
 100070
 100643
 100695
 100642
 100223
 100221
 101449
 100035
 100637
 100667
 101448
 100841
 101451
 100657
 100844
 100862
 100067
 100707
 100710
 100697
 100069
 100708
 100703
 100704
 100702
 100700
 100698
 100705
 100885
 101452
 100711
 101454
 100886
 100068
 101453
 100712
 100057
 101214
 100716
 100890
 100888
 100441
 100887
 100063
 100924
 100923
 100717
 101505
 100726
 100895
 100724
 100706
 101374
 100721
 100725
 101455
 100728
 100513

 

 

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Contact us

If you have a specific enquiry about Coronavirus (COVID-19) Reporting in Higher Education Providers statistics and data:

Higher Education COVID Analysis Team

Email: HE.statistics@education.gov.uk
Contact name: Mark Walsh
Telephone: 07384 872 520

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