Frolicking with Finance

Hiatus over…..Team #VisualisingHE breaking the drought with some fun with HE Provider Financial data.

Back in March 2019 HESA ‘sprung’ a never-before-public release of HE provider institutional finances. Prior to 2019 this level of institutional data has been available to key contacts within institutions through HEIDIPlus platform within institutions – and paying customers. However as part of HESA’s open data programme we can access and visualise more than ever before.

Finance data release

HESA’s new release of Finance data, is the first time HESA has released its full Finance record as open data, freely available for re-use under the Creative Commons 4.0 licence. As well as income and expenditure analysis the release includes HE providers balance sheets, cash flow and capital expenditure.

What do HESA collect from Providers?

HESA collect financial data (submitted in the winter of each academic year in templates provided by HESA) from universities , colleges, and other HE providers in the UK and covers income, expenditure, balance sheets, statement of gains and losses, capital expenditure, senior staff pay and Key Financial Indicators. details on what is collected under each of these broad terms are on HESA’s definitions pages.

Where to start?

Team #VisualisingHE have pondered this data release for some months, and whilst there is a whole lot of juicy figures to dive into, by way of introduction to the HE Finance data, we thought that we should focus some of this post on ‘introducing’ the finance data and the first publication of the Key Financial Indicators (presented as a three year time series).

Key Financial Indicators or KFI’s for short, are compiled using information provided to HESA as part of the HESA Finance record. The KFI’s defined and shown below are a set of ratios extracted from the finance record. They are not performance indicators and take no account of provider-level characteristics such as the range of subjects taught or the types of provision provided.

What are the 9 KFI measures?

  • Days ratio of Total net assets to total expenditure
  • External borrowing as a percent of total income
  • Net cash inflow from operating activities as a percent of total income
  • Net liquidity days
  • Premises cost as a percent of total costs
  • Ratio of current assets to current liabilities
  • Staff costs as a percent of total income
  • Surplus/Deficit as a percent of total income
  • Unrestricted reserves as a percent of total income

For definitions of the KFI’s detailing the numerators/denominators see here

What have team #VisualisingHE done?

Team #VisualisingHE have focused on trying to present these data as simply and cleanly as possible. A #TableauKISS you might say.

Adam came come up with a KFI scorecard, heavily critiqued by both Elena and Dave to settle on the dashboard below, where a single provider can be chosen, the benchmark be selected (sector, country or region) and the dashboard simply presents a provider overview of indicators:

  • Current (2017/8) figure
  • Year on year percent change
  • Provider vs Benchmark comparison trend
  • Sector distribution (and percentile on tooltip)

KFI OverviewV2_final.png

Interactive Viz: Key financial Indicator (KFI) Scorecard

Dave decided to have a ‘rustle’ around the ‘Russell group’ to see what he could find…..

Whilst playing around with the income and expenditure data we were struck by how much Russell Group institutions dominated with nearly half the income going to the small number of Russell Group institutions compared to the large number of non Russell Group institutions. These is also increasing over the time period.

HESA Finance Russell Group and the rest

Interactive Viz: “The Russell group and the rest – Income in UK Higher Education”

Additional resources

My go to: WONKHE gives HE data a timely on the button exploration of data releases. Here David Kernohan put together an excellent first exploration of this data within moments of this data being released for the first time and is always my go to for initial headlines and points of analysis. HESA institutional finance 2019 release: KFI is going to rock you published in March 2019.

Thanks for reading, and as always we would love to hear your thoughts and critique.

We love to viz, write and discuss all things HE, but most of all we love to learn, so let us know what you think.

Adam, Dave and Elena.


The wonderful world of finance

It may be said that Finance data doesn’t always attract the big crowds in the world of HE. The HE main stage is often reserved for hotter topics like the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), Research Excellence Framework (REF) and external media focus from league tables often focus on the academic and student outcomes, rather than the support system sitting behind it. In our experience financial data struggles to get visualised and has a reputation for being dull and wedded to excel data tables. Cue #VisualisingHE…

We thought it would be a great idea to focus this post on the wonderful world of finance. We merrily went off and downloaded years of finance returns from HESA and combined them into a wonderful big data set, pulled on our finest Tableau viz gloves, poured a large coffee and readied ourselves to create some tableau masterpieces. We were thinking; small multiples, exploratory box plots and even the odd map.

All was going well until Adam pointed out:


Having just two years of data just made it a whole more tricky to do something interesting.  Most of the ideas we had fell by the way side.  The exploratory viz survived and Stephen joined the conversation and looked at mapping. Searching for ideas and filling a long string of twitter messaging, conversations took a bizarre twist with references to BANs. Dave was transcended back to his younger days where ‘just for fun’ he was tasked to build spreadsheets for his Dad in Supercalc – Adam felt it would be rude not to pay homage to this fond memory and attempted a retro spreadsheet viz to bring the memory back to life:


HESA Finance: 2014/5 & 2015/6 IN THE STYLE OF: SUPERCALC

On this finance focused folly we have honed in on Income, Expenditure and Surplus deficit, and here are the headline BANS:

Total income was £34.7 billion during the financial year to 31 July 2016. Overall expenditure was £33 billion in 2015/16. The surplus of income over expenditure was £2.3 billion in 2015/16, or 6.8% of total income.

The hard hitting stat (KFI) in the wonderful world of Finance, is Surplus deficit as a percent of total income, so our vizzes mainly explore this key financial indicator.

Below is an exploratory viz encouraging the viewer into the relationship between income, expenditure, surplus or deficit between providers, mission groups and years.

surplus deficit_explorartory.png

Link to viz: HESA Finance 2014/15 – 2015/16

The number of HE providers reporting a surplus was 142 out of 163 in 2015/16. Deficits in the financial year 2015/16 were reported by 20 providers.

So plenty of stuff there – one last roll of the dice…

Shape – the vizzes so far were great at looking at the providers and how they were performing but we wanted to have a play around and see if we could find something that shows the shape of the sector and a bit of how it has changed.

Income Expenditure Surplus

Link to viz: Income, Expenditure and Surplus for the UK HE Sector

Does it work?  Sort of we can see that the sector has made slightly more surplus in 2015/16 and we can see that only a few institutions make the bulk of the surplus.  We can also see that as a sector there has been a better financial performance with less providers having a negative KFI (Surplus/deficit as a % of total income).

There are definitely more effective ways of representing this (such as the exploratory view above) but we enjoyed trying something new.

Hopefully you have managed to get to the end and we have managed to convince you that it is possible to visualise HE finance data and find some useful insight.