You were the Data Futures, once

The latest in the interminable saga of making a higher education data system fit for the twenty-first century.

David Kernohan is Acting Editor of Wonkhe

I’m not saying that we have arguing about Data Futures/HEDIIP for a long time but the earlier specifications were actually inscribed on vellum by medieval monks.

Today – with nothing else much going on in higher education – the Office for Students wove a further few panels in the data tapestry by responding to the consultation on Data Futures and data collection: part one first released to a grateful and eager datafam in December of the year of our lord 2021.

The Blesséd Andy Youell took us through what was on offer – he was singularly unimpressed at the absence of consideration of the full spectrum of statutory data provision your average provider has to deal with. Reducing proposed collections from three to two, for example, might make Michelle Donelan feel like she was reducing burden but it could only ever be a drop in the ocean.

Andy’s focus on real burden led to the establishment of a Department for Education taskforce – looking across sectors and nations to address the crux of the burden issue. It should report in the autumn – and will feed in to the design of the post-LLE data landscape. With that in mind, what the OfS does right now feels like another meandering chapter in a story riven with them rather than the dénouement.

You said… they did

One hundred and fifty brave and doughty souls responded – six via email after the deadline, but don’t worry you were counted anyway. Because your responses to part two (other changes to data collection) and part three (use of linked and third-party data) were “mixed” we have to wait till July for responses on those matters – what we have in front of us refers to part one on the approaches to in year data collection.

The general theme was a desire to leave things as they currently are (given the time and investment squandered in getting ready for stuff that may now not happen), with the exceptions of sensible tweaks to HESES returns and NSS target lists to address near-duplication of effort. Shifting the census date to 15 November (to be clear as part of the Data Futures specification, not something proposed by this consultation) was particularly unpopular.

As is generally the pattern with OfS consultations the card you first saw – option 1 (“Two individualised student data collections a year with reduced data requirements in the first data return”) was the correct one, so with that in mind we can continue as planned to the 2022-23 implementation – but with in-year, mid-year, call it what you will collections now commencing in 2024-25.

We need to wait for July to find out which data items will be in each of the two in-year returns, and for a decision on the end of the first reference period (OfS is “minded” to plump for 1 December with a sign-off date the third week of the following month.

The next data consultation may involve the removal of the HESES return and the medical and dental survey return once Data Futures is on stream – this was always a likely benefit of tidying up collection and it actually will make a meaningful difference to staff in providers who do this stuff. The NSS additions and removals process is also expected to go – OfS has clarified that it will end but we don’t yet know how.

However, wider stakeholders (everybody who isn’t the OfS who uses HESA data) will have their needs considered only once in-year collection is running. Regulators in devolved nations have seen their requirements incorporated “where appropriate and possible”, but there’ll be no more burden placed on English providers to align with wider UK data practice.

Where possible, we would hope that in the future PSRBs and others will be able to benefit
from the use of the data collected by the designated data body. However, the needs of these
bodies are diverse and it is unlikely that we would be able to determine data content and
timing that would meet the needs of all of these bodies. Therefore, we think it is appropriate
for us to ensure that our needs are met.

has quite the energy.


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