Personal Characteristics and Equality data consultation

Closed 17 Jun 2021

Opened 17 Mar 2021


The purpose of the consultation is to consider updates to the coding frames for various personal characteristics and equality data items, across multiple collections, based on changes being made to national censuses. There are also proposals to consider the implications of collecting three new data items on marital status, pregnancy and maternity.


Following increased public interest in issues around identity and the expression of protected characteristics in data collection and analysis, the Government Statistical Service (GSS) has sponsored research into new harmonised standards for data collection in time for the 2021 Censuses. As a part of the statistics family, HESA now needs to consider how to respond to these changing standards in order that our data remains comparable with other sources, allowing coherent analyses to be performed across different datasets.

With Statutory Customers' support, HESA have been in discussions with Advance HE over their proposed updates to questions, responses and guidance around these fields, and it was agreed that this was the appropriate time to make updates to these data items in the HESA records.

This consultation has reflected on the ITT, Staff, Student and Student Alternative 2020/21 specifications and the Data Futures specification, in order to consider a view across our records. This includes data collected in the following areas:

  • Care leaver
  • Carer (considered, but no change needed)
  • Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender identity / gender reassignment
  • National identity
  • Parental education (considered, but no change needed)
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex identifier
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital status 
  • Pregnancy
  • Maternity / parental leave

This consultation was originally envisaged as being implemented in the 2021/22 specifications, to match with the corresponding dates for implementing these in the censuses. However, given the initial feedback we have had from providers, we are also presenting the following year as an alternative for the start of implementation, in order to get an understanding of which is the preference of the sector.

Attached is an annex which details the research we have undertaken by looking at each of the records mentioned, what data we collected now, what is collected elsewhere and a recommendation to align these in these proposals. It is not necessary for answering these proposals and there is no expectation on providers to look at this, but may be helpful in understanding all the background research we have been doing if you are interested.

We have therefore included details on the following other organisations / collections:

  • GSS Harmonisation strategy
  • 2021 Census - England
  • 2021 Census - Northern Ireland
  • Scotland’s Census 2021
  • 2021 Census - Wales
  • Advance HE guidance (updates due to be published in 2021)
  • UCAS *J specification for 2020/21 (though this was still draft at the time)
  • ILR specification for 2020/21 (included for information only)

Proposed new data items:
Marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity, are protected characteristics under the Equalities Act 2010 (S.4) and there is a statutory duty to ensure that regulation is not adversely affecting these groups and demonstrate due consideration to the Public Sector Equality Duty. The AdvanceHE recommendation on equality monitoring is explicit in the Public Sector Equality Duty applying to Marriage and Civil Partnership and Pregnancy and Maternity.

HESA already collects data on other protected characteristics such as age, disability, religion or belief and sexual orientation however has not until now facilitated the collection and monitoring of marital status, pregnancy and maternity.

Please note, we will only be accepting online responses; the following text and questions included in the consultation is for reference purposes, to assist cross-organisational response.

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