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A new dawn across the data landscape

The quality of HE data hasn't always be great, but the work of the Data Landscape Steering Group is making things a lot better. Andy Youell introduces the latest DLSG report.
This article is more than 5 years old

Andy Youell is Executive Director: Regulation at UCEM

Today sees the launch of the Data Landscape Steering Group Annual Report. The report summarises the work that has been undertaken to rationalise and standardise the data landscape and to improve data capabilities across the sector.

The Data Landscape Steering Group was established as one of the key recommendations of the HEDIIP programme which ran between 2013 and 2016. The group exists to provide oversight and leadership to the data landscape and to define and promote high standards in the handling and processing of data. The group monitors a broad range of developments such as the HESA Data Futures programme which will enable the rationalisation of data flows and the development and implementation of the award-winning HECoS subject coding system which will provide more coherence and comparability across a range of different data processes.

The consistent adoption of HECoS by UCAS, SLC, HESA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a great example of organisations working together for the greater good; and the adoption of the Common Aggregation Hierarchy by DFE as the basis for subject-based TEF ensures that the structure will be the de facto standard going forward.

Improving data management

One of the most significant elements of the HEDIIP programme was the work to understand and improve standards of data management and governance in institutions. In 2018 we re-ran the sector-wide assessment of data capabilities across the sector and this confirmed that progress is being made in this area. It’s not easy: data management is not a sexy topic to sell and when investments are made it can take a long time to realise benefits. But the sector now has a much clearer idea of what good practice looks like, and momentum is gathering.

Earlier this year the DLSG published codes of practice for HE data collections. The code for the data suppliers was based on a code developed by the UK funding councils and HESA in 2015; the code for the data collectors reflected the principles of the earlier code back to the data demand-side. The data collectors code includes the need to standardise and rationalise data collection and promotes a richer understanding of the drivers and levels of burden that data collections place on providers. Since its publication the sector’s main data collectors and processors have committed to adopting the code.

The journey to create a more effective and less-burdensome data landscape started in paragraph 6.22 of the 2011 HE White Paper. The call to “re-design the information landscape” was bold and probably long overdue. The myriad of duplicate data collections and the failure to agree even the most basic concepts (“What is a course?”) resulted in a landscape that was painful to work with, and from which it was almost impossible to retrieve consistent and comparable information.

When we embarked on this journey we assumed that it was all about data; in reality it has been far more about culture, mindset, and changing behaviours. I depart from HESA this summer knowing that, while we still have a great distance to travel, the oil tanker has turned and is sailing towards a better data future for us all.

One response to “A new dawn across the data landscape

  1. However there are still some glitches in the smooth datascape. College HE returns HEIFES on 1st November while universities and APs return on 1st December. Surely that must set up a disparity?

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