Monthly Archives: February 2015

Shaping the information landscape

One of UCISA’s roles is to ensure that suppliers to our sector are kept abreast of developments that may impact the software and services they deliver. The aim is to alert suppliers of potential changes in legislation or other statutory requirements so that they can effectively plan future developments. A recent example of this activity was the briefing day that UCISA and HEDIIP arranged at the end of January to bring suppliers of student records systems up to date with the work being carried out under the HEDIIP programme.

The meeting heard updates on four of the HEDIIP projects: data capability; the new subject coding system, the Unique Learner Number and the new Information Landscape. In addition we heard from HESA about the CACHED project. The aim of the HEDIIP programme is to redesign the information landscape to enhance the arrangements for the collection, sharing and dissemination of data and information about the HE system. Each of these projects will contribute to that overall goal – I won’t go into detail on these here but if you are interested in learning more, each is outlined on the HEDIIP website.

There were a number of common themes that emerged from the day. The first was the adoption of standards. One of the challenges the sector faces currently is that the same term can mean different things to different organisations (the term course being a prime example) so standard data definitions are essential to a common understanding and data sharing. This has been a particular problem with the JACS subject coding scheme where changes and growth in JACS’ range of functions mean it is no longer consistently applied.

The second theme was managing cultural change both within higher education institutions and a number of the organisations requesting data from the sector. In some institutions, many processes are geared around producing the HESA return and the need to get it “right”. The focus on a single return suggests that these institutions may be unaware of the volume of demands made on their data and the amount of resource across the institution spent in ensuring the various returns made are correct. It is highly unlikely that there will be one version of the truth in these institutions – indeed it was noted that one institution had over 200 separate collections of student records. It goes without saying that the data management in such institutions is poor – it will take a significant change to move away from data being an input to deliver a return to a point where it is seen as an institutional asset.

Finally, the biggest challenge is governance. At an institutional level, mature data management will only be achieved with effective information governance being driven from the top table. Getting the value of data understood at senior management level is key to improving the data and information management within an institution. There are wider governance issues that the HEDIIP programme will need to address. Moving to a set of standard data definitions is one challenge – ensuring that the governance mechanisms are in place to ensure that the standards remain consistently applied and understood is a league apart. Similarly with the new subject coding scheme, establishing a governance model that is supported by an appropriate selection of stakeholders, with sufficient authority and resources to manage its evolution will be critical to the success of the new scheme.

The feedback from those suppliers present was positive. They could recognise the efficiencies in moving to a model where, for the most part, data is submitted to a single point at various points in the year and drawn down from a single repository. The HEDIIP programme is only part of achieving this goal – the institutions need to improve their data management and change their processes, those requesting data may also have to change their processes and suppliers will need to amend their systems to implement new standards and enable data to be extracted at key points in the academic year or cycle. It will be a long journey but one that offers much reward.