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Monitoring questions

Recommended questions to ask about equality information.

Institutions are required to return data on staff and students to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) in a specific format. However, you can tailor your questions and the response options to your context. For example, some of the categories HESA requires are broad, so splitting these may allow for a more in-depth analysis of the data. However, when expanding from HESA requirements, you should consider at the outset how the data can be aggregated or otherwise made able to be returned to HESA in the required form. One consideration is that meanings of questions and categories reflect the meanings in HESA requirements.

In recommending wording of and response options to the sector, Advance HE needs to balance its guidance with what is required by the Equality Act, and what institutions are required to collect and return to HESA, which for students is also related to what UCAS collects. Consideration also needs to be given to the ability to compare data with prior years, and with other data sources for benchmarking. With all of these considerations, we acknowledge that approaches to some questions and response options by some organisations in other sectors differ from Advance HE's guidance.

Advance HE also provides recommendations for future changes to equality monitoring to HESA and to other relevant sector bodies, as good practice develops.

Equality monitoring is a complex and evolving area, so institutions are encouraged to review Advance HE guidance and their own monitoring questions and response options at regular intervals.  There are also changes made to the HESA staff and student record data collections each year, which may have implications for equality data. The below updated recommended questions and response options reflect HESA’s requirements for the 2017/18 data collection.

There are other considerations for equality monitoring in the college sector, leading to slightly different recommended questions and response options. Advance HE will shortly be publishing a guide to equality monitoring for colleges in Scotland.

General notes on equality monitoring

Before asking equality monitoring questions, Advance HE recommends providing a statement explaining why the institution or college is doing so, and the benefits of equality monitoring, such as:

When monitoring, Advance HE recommends listing equality areas and response options alphabetically.

It is important that staff and students have the option to participate in monitoring exercises without having to disclose, for example by giving the option ‘prefer not to say’.

Further notes on equality monitoring



Advance HE has updated its recommended question and response options for disability status to better reflect both legal developments and the social model of disability. This updated wording is compatible with HESA requirements. Find out more.


Advance HE recommends providing explanatory text, such as ‘ethnic group is about the group to which you perceive you belong’. Find out more.

Gender reassignment:

Advance HE has modified its recommended monitoring question for gender reassignment. This change will be reflected in HESA data collection for the 2017/18 staff record. Find out more.

Pregnancy and maternity:

Pregnancy and maternity have been proven by national data and research to have a significant impact on women’s careers. Advance HE recommends optional monitoring of pregnancy, collected annually and on recruitment. Find out more.

Religion and belief:

Advance HE has revised its suggested question for religion and belief. Please note that from 2017/18, return of religion and belief data to HESA will be compulsory for the student record data collection. Find out more.


2017/18 academic year, HESA require HEIs to report data on the sexual identification of staff using the response options of ‘male’, ‘female’ and ‘other’. This change brings the staff and student questions on sex into line. Find out more.

Sexual orientation:

Advance HE has updated its recommended question on sexual orientation. Find out more.

Marriage/ Civil partnership:

HESA collects data on marital status in Northern Ireland. Collecting data on marriage/civil partnership outside of Northern Ireland is not a requirement, however the public sector equality duty does apply to marriage and civil partnership in respect of the requirement to have due regard to the need to eliminate unlawful discrimination in employment. Therefore Advance HE is aware that institutions in England, Wales and Scotland may be monitoring for marriage/civil partnership to identify the impact of this in employment, and we have provided a suggested question. 

Are you currently?

• Cohabiting
• Divorced or civil partnership dissolved
• In a civil partnership
• Married
• Separated (but still legally married or in a civil partnership)
• Single (never married or never in a civil partnership)
• Widowed or a surviving partner from a civil partnership
• Prefer not to say

Caring responsibilities:

Although not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, HEIs need to show how their employment policies do not discriminate against people with caring responsibilities. Find out more.