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HESA launches data upgrade programme



Statistics agency for higher education begins search for partner as step towards 'single version of truth' on students

The Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) has put out the call for a partner in its Data Futures Programme as a step towards modernising the use of data in the sector.

It has launched a procurement for a supplier to help it pull together 12 data streams and redesign the way it collects and handles information on students, with an eye on the potential for upgrading its analytics capability.

The move is a response to two reports: the Students at the Heart of the System report, published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills in 2011; and the New Landscape Project by the Higher Education Improvement and Development Programme (HEIDP) from last year. They pointed to a need for more timely and relevant data, to reduce duplication in its collection and meet a wider range of needs, placing the emphasis on HESA to take the lead.

The move also follows a report published earlier this year by the Policy Connect think tank, From Bricks to Clicks, which said universities need guidance on better data management to support analytics.

Unsustainable and unstructured

HESA's project guidance document says the current emphasis on collecting data once a year is unsustainable, with many organisations collecting their own data in-year, which has led to a lack of structure and undermined the quality.

It highlights the need for a “single version of truth” on student numbers, progression and achievement, and highlights five drivers for the programme: timely data collection, analysis and dissemination; reducing the burden of submission on providers; improving value for money; making data fit for purpose; and supporting changes recommended by the HEIDP.

Providing the single version will involve increasing the amount of in-year collection through a central source, and integrating information from the existing collection streams. These cover: student records, alternative provider student records; initial teach training, staff records; finance records; destinations of leavers from higher education; a longitudinal survey of leavers; an aggregate offshore record; the Higher Education Business and Community Interaction survey; an estates management record; institution profile record; and the Key Information Set on undergraduate courses.

The document says this would reduce the effort for higher education providers and support better informed strategic decision-making and intelligence for the higher education sector.

The tender document says the supplier will have to provide programme and project management and the design of systems, data governance and business processes, along with the development of the various technical features and support for HESA in communication and stakeholder engagement.

Pilot plans

HESA plans to begin alpha piloting of initial concepts and prototypes in the 2017-18 academic year, with beta piloting to follow the year after and a full handover and integration at the end of 2019-20.

It has valued the deal at £7.5 million with an initial duration of four years, although it has said it could be stretched to as long as 14 years.

The organisation is a charitable company funded by subscriptions from universities and other higher education providers, and produces data for a number of central government organisations, along with research councils and the National College for Teaching and Leadership.

Picture from rawdonfox,CC 2.0 through flickr


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