A leaner HESA estates collection

One of the sector's most fascinating datasets gets an overhaul in the face of falling submissions

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

On a day when details about the government’s support for non-residential energy customers are published, it’s difficult not to think about the sorry state of sector-level oversight of energy use.

The HESA Estates record – optional for providers in England and Northern Ireland – has suffered from declining participation over a number of years. This year’s data does not include data from 24 providers who failed entirely to submit, and incomplete records for a further 15.

Though the collection parameters are agreed by provider estates directors – via the auspices of the Association of University Directors of Estates (AUDE) – the general perception among data collection and compliance staff is that the return is unwieldy and burdensome. Even during the days when submitting the estates record was mandatory, it was seldom audited and very infrequently used in regulation – two sets of circumstances known to lead to low quality data, the perception of which was a contributory factor to the decision to remove the requirement in the early, buccaneering, days of the Office for Students.

Of course, events like the current energy crisis – and long term policy aspirations on sustainable estates – highlight just how useful this data is. Any lobbying the sector may wish to do on energy cost support (would there, for example, be a case to offer additional capital to support efficiencies in large-scale research equipment use) would benefit greatly from a clear understanding of how and in what form energy is used.

To encourage participation by institutions AUDE has proposed a lean data collection, covering a much smaller range of fields (though providers will be free to make the full return if they wish). Information that is difficult to compare (such as residential estates data) will be stripped out. A separate ongoing project (at EAUC, funded by DfE) to examine what energy use and efficiency data is required will report outside of this process.

The outcomes of the initial member consultation proposes a very simple list of area- and condition-based summaries of current estates, plus financial information on maintenance and other property costs. HESA is already on board, and has indicated that providers are welcome to return this lean data set from the next collection onwards.

Keen Wonkhe readers will note that car parking information will not feature in the lean return. While the Wonkhe Car Parking League Table has brought joy to many, I think we’d be willing to sacrifice such tomfoolery at the altar of a better estates data collection.


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