This article is more than 6 years old

New Year data resolutions

HESA's Andy Youell stops off on his way to the gym to suggest some New Year's resolutions for managing your institutional data.
This article is more than 6 years old

Andy Youell is Executive Director: Regulation at UCEM

As memories of Christmas, office parties and “festive” jumpers fade for another year, our thoughts turn to 2018 – the year ahead and its challenges, opportunities and aspirations.

The setting of new year resolutions can be a difficult topic for some. Memories of wasted gym membership fees and failed diets can put many people off from declaring new year resolutions. However, if your resolve remains firm at the start of 2018 I offer some data-related resolutions for your consideration.

Get your HECoS-groove on

The award-winning Higher Education Classification of Subjects (HECoS) becomes a reality from the start of the 2019/20 year. While this might seem a long way off, data processing for 2019 starts this year as data processes for the UCAS application cycle and SLC applications start to run. HECoS looks and feels very different to the JACS system it replaces and institutions have a major task of recoding courses and modules to the new structure.

The implementation of HECoS is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a subject-coding infrastructure that is defined and implemented consistently across a broad range of key HE processes. The dual prizes of eliminating duplication and providing more consistent and comparable information is within our grasp if we can get this right.

If HECoS coding is not already underway in your institution then you should get your HECoS-groove on and get with it!

Contact details for Graduate Outcomes

As the HE-policy and funding debate increasingly focuses on what graduates do after HE, the data about graduate destinations is more important than at any time since the Universities Statistical Record started collecting sector-level destinations data in the early 1970s.

HESA has undertaken a fundamental review of destinations data and the new Graduate Outcomes survey is the most significant change in this area for over forty years. The shift to a centralised collection process – and the move from a survey at 6 months to one at 15 months – makes the availability of high-quality contact details more significant, and more of a challenge, than at any previous time.

Data Futures preparation

The HESA Data Futures programme will transform the sector’s approach to student data collection and will deliver more timely and relevant data to underpin funding, regulation, policy and a myriad of other uses. Data Futures becomes data reality in 2019/20.
Over the past year HESA has published a wealth of material about the new collection process, timetable and data specification and, although there remains a lot of detail to work through, a clear picture of data collection in the Data Futures world has now emerged.

The impact on institutions could unlock significant changes and improvements in data processes. But the detail of what needs to be done will vary across institutions and it will require thorough analysis and detailed planning. Data Futures is on the horizon and the future has a habit of arriving sooner than you think.

Treating data as an asset

My final suggestion for a new year data resolution encompasses all the things I’ve mentioned above as well as the sector’s broader desire to be more efficient, better informed and improve the student experience through the provision of high-quality joined-up services.

In the twenty-first century data underpins every process and transaction that takes place across the sector. We make huge demands of our data and yet, all too often, we treat it with very little respect. If we are to drive real value from our data then we have to genuinely treat it as an asset with standards of control, management and oversight that are comparable to other assets such as people, buildings and money.

Staying the course

OK, so new year resolutions don’t have a great reputation for long-term success; It is all too easy to consider them optional or nice-to-have. The changes in data across the sector that are emerging this year are not optional and yet do provide an opportunity to build a data infrastructure that is fit for purpose for many years to come. So let’s keep talking, let’s keep sharing our problems and successes and let’s not lose sight of the benefits that all this work will deliver.

Right….I’m off to the gym.

7 responses to “New Year data resolutions

  1. I’ve never been a fan of New Year’s resolutions (probably because I never stick to them) – but I think these are ones I can sign up to whole heartedly!

  2. I’m curious about your point that data should be treated as an asset. I’ve always wanted something explained to me.

    HEIs collect and produce the data, not only is it useful to us, it’s a statutory requirement.
    We then PAY HESA to give them that data?

    Not only do we pay HESA for giving them this asset, they dictate how, when, the quality and always with increasing quantity. Clearly this data is an asset to HESA as they then SELL this data to the government (and to virtually any third party who is willing to pay).

    If data is such a valuable asset and HESA profit it from it so readily, why must HEIs pay a subscription to HESA? I know we do know because the government forces us to or risk being barred from HEFCE and SLC funding, but I am curious how HESA convinced the government to essentially pay them twice?

  3. Presumably because the amounts raised from selling the data don’t cover the costs of the service? For me the message is a call for providers, including my own, to reflect upon how poorly it uses data to improve the service provided to students or even less altruistically to gain competitive advantage.

  4. I don’t want to seem negative, and I am strongly behind the recognition of data as an asset, but I suspect JACS was also seen as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”. I hope thought is being given to want went wrong (or has JACS simply run its expected lifetime?), as at the moment I am struggling to see how HECoS will really improve things.

  5. Hi Peter
    There are 2 main problems with JACS; First the hierarchical structure was a big limiting factor – it has run out of space in many places and we also find some things being shoehorned into the hierarchy (you can only have 10 children to each parent node). Second, although JCAS was used in many places, it was not implemented consistently so use of a common coding frame did not deliver consistent/comparable data and information. The HECoS system is accompanied by a Common Aggregation Hierarchy for everybody to use in statistical analyses and an implementation guide which aims to define how HECoS should be used in a range of use-cases. in both cases we are trying to learn from previous problems

  6. I am very much on board with the idea of data as an asset at the same level as people, money or buildings. It strikes me that every institution has a single department to manage and govern the use of the last three (HR, finance, estates).

    From discussions with colleagues, I am not aware of an institution that has an autonomous ‘data’ department. Has any HEI actually gone down this route?

  7. Hi Karl. I often refer to the comparison between data management and the management of money, people and buildings….but your question has thrown a new light on it for me.

    Of the three other types of asset, I suspect that it is only buildings/estates that has a dedicated department for its management. Although most organisations will have a Finance department and an HR department, the day-to-day operational management of people and money will often be done across the organisation (eg departments will control their own budgets and line managers will manage their reporting staff). The central finance and HR departments are probably more about organisation-wide control/governance, standards and reporting. I suspect the comparison is stronger in these cases.

    I would be fascinated to hear any other responses to this one…..

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