1. Overview

As in previous censuses an accurate estimate of students at their term-time address is a key user need. This informs funding decisions on things like university campus bus links and bike lanes, jobs and training.

In light of the pandemic, lockdown restrictions, and the fact that many students may not be at their term-time address, we have reviewed and enhanced the guidance for students on how they should complete the census. We have also reviewed and reinforced our student communication plans to ensure students are aware of what they need to do.

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2. Design and Definition

We published our overall statistical design for Census 2021 on 1 October 2020. All residents of England and Wales will be enumerated at their usual resident address. As in previous censuses, students will be enumerated at both their usual term-time address and their usual out-of-term address if these are different.

The lockdown restrictions initiated in early January mean that a high proportion of students who returned home for the Christmas holidays did not return to their term time address before census day.

We have recently published two papers:

A term-time address is defined as an address that students intended to stay at regularly during term time in this academic year, even if they are not currently there. This could include:

  • private rented accommodation or student lodgings near a place of learning that rent is being paid for

  • a hall of residence that a student had planned to stay at for this academic year and have a contract for

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3. Approach in practice

We are sending letters containing an individual access code to students who remain at their term-time address. This code will let them access their census questionnaire online. They will also receive reminder letters as the census operation progresses if they have not yet completed the form.

Students studying remotely (for example at a parental home)** are also being asked to complete a census form for their term-time address.

Guidance has been provided on how to obtain an access code for an address, even if the student is not at it. Every university and higher education establishment in England and Wales has been contacted who are helping to disseminate this guidance to their students directly.

As in previous censuses, for census forms completed at parental addresses, a small number of questions will need to be answered about students who normally live elsewhere during term-time.

Students who do not intend to return to their term-time address at all during the academic year 2020 to 2021, will be counted in full at the address they are resident at on census day. This is actioned via routing on the form. If the response indicates that they are a full-time student or schoolchild with a term-time address they are routed out of the form, otherwise they will continue through the remainder of the questions.

We are enumerating international students studying at universities in England and Wales who:

  • are present at the establishment and have stayed, or intend to stay, in the UK for 3 months or more
  • are not currently in the UK but attended in person the Autumn 2020 term or the Winter 2021 term, or both, and intend to return this academic year, or before 21 March 2022
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4. Communication

In addition to the main census campaign, there is also a specific communications campaign targeted at students. The National Statistician has written to all University Vice-Chancellors to ask for their help in sending written pre-prepared emails and other material to all students on our behalf. We are also working with the National Union for Students to ensure these messages are widely distributed. This material has also been made available on the Census 2021 website (by filtering "Higher Education Institution").

A special students webpage - www.census.gov.uk/students - which, together with our online help, contains all the necessary information and guidance for students. Student comprehension of this information and the materials for universities to cascade has been tested via cognitive interviews and was found to acceptable and well understood.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic there may be more international students who are not currently living in the UK (the second group above). We are working with universities to reach these students using the material referred to above.

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5. Ensuring accurate data on students

We have established methods for estimation of, and adjustment for, non-response or overcount of students. In addition, we have designed an extensive quality assurance process which is flexible and adaptable. We have already planned to use information from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, for example to check that the census estimates of students are plausible.

We are also considering what further information may be of help. An in-built source of information is that provided on students on the Census 2021 returns at parental or out of term-time addresses. Census returns at these addresses should include any students that normally live elsewhere during term-time, as well as what those term-time addresses are. This provides a useful cross-check and the opportunity to provide a flexible range of population bases.

Additionally, we are exploring whether we can obtain information on numbers of students at term-time addresses in March 2021 that universities or halls of residence managers may be able to provide.

We are confident that with all these measures, that we will be able to provide the best possible estimate of the term time population of students on census day.

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