Data further into the future

What is it with OfS and consultation responses right now?

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

Nearly a year ago, the Office for Students consulted the sector on a new approach to data collection.

We had to wait until May for a partial response – which provided the bare bones of what is known as “Data Futures”, now an actual data collection that is going ahead this year.

But there were two other parts to the consultation – part two was on other minor tweaks to the student and staff collections, and part three was the question of data linking (using, marvellously, “data science techniques”) to external sources of information.

This morning we learn that regarding these last two components OfS will:

 not make final decisions in relation to the proposals in parts two and three of the consultation at this time.

To be scrupulously fair, none of these decisions could ever really be considered final – we’ve known since the 2019 manifesto that the Lifelong Loan Entitlement was on the way and that this would largely shred both data collection and regulatory approaches.

A work in progress

There has been a working group on the data implications working at DfE – it was one of Michelle Donelan’s initiatives, but was paused under Jenkyns and has yet to restart. Because of this work, some of the sector consultation responses speculated on the wisdom of making decisions about data collection (and indeed regulation) in the years before this became a thing.

The other OfS justifications for not responding to all these consultation responses are red herrings – Jisc as DDB is basically HESA under new ownership, there is an energy crisis but it is difficult to tie this back to data requirements. Times are uncertain… but times are always uncertain.

Meanwhile, we have the bare bones of the data futures that is actually underway (and we assume that all of the extra tweaks are off the table for now), but we do need to look closely at the government business case for preserving a higher education data system that is so far from the rest of the tertiary sector, and is at odds with incoming policy changes.

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