What exactly is a Student Records Officer? As is often the case in higher education, that depends on which institution you work in.
In a large institution, you may be based within a traditional registry and specialise in one or two areas of work while in a smaller or more specialist institution you might have a much broader spectrum of responsibilities, or even be the sole ‘student records’ professional.
This week sees the 29th annual Student Records Officers’ conference take place at Cranfield University. Originally convened by a group of Data Protection Officers in 1986 under the aegis of the then Conference of University Administrators (the forerunner of AUA), SROC held its first full conference in 1991 at the University of Cambridge. Since 2003, SROC has also operated as one of the practitioner groups of the Academic Registrar’s Council (ARC).
Looking at the job titles of conference delegates over the past few years, you’d be hard-pushed to actually find many with ‘student records’ in the title – but the thing they all have in common is that they work with some aspect of the student record or student records system. Of course, they all have an interest in promoting and sharing good practice, discussing hot topics of the day (Degree Apprenticeships or Data Futures anyone?) and, of course, the all-important building of a network of like-minded professionals who can be called upon for advice and comment, often at very short notice!
It’s not all about data
Most Student Records Officers have some responsibility for data in some form or another, but not everyone is involved in data returns, or are data geeks (although there are a few of those too). We had some discussion a couple of years ago about whether the term ‘Student Records Officer’ was outdated and no longer relevant, but when we looked at the wide range of topics suggested by delegates for breakout sessions or discussion we couldn’t find anything else that really fit the bill. Suggestions of ‘data wranglers’ or ‘data professionals’ seemed to put the wrong emphasis on what we do, and exclude some members of our community – it’s not just about the data, it’s also about providing a service to our students, academic colleagues and staff from other areas of professional services.
As a member of my team once said: “Student Records Officers don’t get much recognition until something goes wrong, do they?”, which I thought summed things up pretty well. If everything is working smoothly then, although we may be paddling frantically below the water line just to keep things afloat, no one really notices. But if the exam timetable is late being published, a student’s having financial difficulties because their enrolment hasn’t been reported to Student Finance England or there are queues outside the on-boarding/ enrolment/registration/matriculation hall (call it what you will depending on local terminology), then suddenly the Student Records Officer is the centre of attention.
Student Records Officers are, in my view, some of the many unsung heroes of the higher education sector, often going the extra mile to help sort out issues, and many of them don’t realise just how much hangs off what they do. As one member of the Office for Students commented recently: “Student data is so central to everything we are doing that if student record officers packed up and went home we’d be in real trouble”.
And as for the HESA return just being a matter of someone pushing a button… don’t get me started on that one!
The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Engineering the Future’. With the unprecedented pace of change across the sector, the wait for various reviews to be published, the interest from various parts of government and the amount of uncertainty surrounding HE, to name but a few of the challenges facing the sector, Student Records Officers are key to offering stability while helping shape the future (data) landscape. The next twelve months will be an interesting time for everyone working in HE.