Demands for more and better sector-level information, both for statutory purposes and for a range of less formal league tables and other comparisons, are ever increasing. The application of consistent data standards can help reduce the possibility of misinterpretation/misrepresentation of data in the public domain. Ultimately, the reusability of standardised information may also help reduce the overall number of requests for similar information.
This section takes a look at some of the main sector-level information initiatives of relevance in the UK. The fact that the importance of these initiatives is unlikely to diminish is highlighted by European commission investment in the U-Multirank initiative, a ‘multidimensional, user-driven approach to international ranking of higher education institutions’ launched in 2014.
KIS (key information set)
The KIS, available via the Unistats website, provides comparable sets of standardised information about undergraduate courses, including some parts of past students’ academic experience on the course, student satisfaction, graduate employment rates and accommodation costs. The rapid introduction of KIS in 2012 brought the need for better management of course information sharply into focus for many providers of higher education and was a key driver for many learning providers to look at how they were managing their data.
KIS is a very broad-brush comparison tool and many learning providers are taking advantage of their XCRI-CAP feeds to enhance the quality of information available to prospective students.
It is also a driver for many HE in FE providers who offer a highly personalised learning experience to very small HE cohorts. Because these courses often do not meet the minimum numbers to appear in the KIS, they are aggregated up into larger groupings which do not really aid prospective students to gain an understanding of what the learning experience on a particular course will be. City of Bristol College offers HE provision via a range of partners and has also noted the possibility for conflicting information for directly funded and franchised students on the same course and hence the importance of the college providing supplementary information.
"The project has demonstrated a way in which HE in FE providers who are sometimes marginalised through national initiatives such as the KIS (eg excluding courses <= 1FTE) can maintain the presence of their curriculum offer outside of the organisation’s core web presence through the provision of a standard feed to external agencies."
Blackpool and the Fylde College
"Recruiting students is key and XCRI-CAP is upfront about that, more so than KIS… XCRI-CAP is about supporting and enhancing student recruitment by providing more detail on course content and across a greater scope of provision than that required by statutory reporting such as KIS."
University of Hull
"Changing the language of module and programme specifications from dry ‘academic speak’ to ‘student friendly’ language… has positioned City well to meet the new requirements of the KIS, which encourages more student friendly information on programmes."
The Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR)
The HEAR is designed to encourage a more sophisticated approach to recording student achievement, which acknowledges fully the range of opportunities that higher education institutions in the UK offer to their students. As such it provides a more complete record of how a student performed at university than the traditional academic transcript and gives a detailed description of both academic and extra-curricular learning and experience.
Adoption of the HEAR is mandatory for higher education providers in Northern Ireland but is not currently compulsory elsewhere in the UK, however many institutions have been looking at the management of their course data with a view to ensuring that such information can be produced easily without excessive cost in the future.
A 2015 green paper – Fulfilling our potential: Teaching Excellence, Social Mobility and Student Choice recognised that the adoption of the HEAR is an important development and will help provide students and employers with richer information, and suggests that this work requires greater urgency.
According to a 2015 Higher Education Academy survey 61 higher education institutions (HEIs) had implemented the HEAR with another 43 considering or planning its implementation. In addition to issuing a summative HEAR at graduation, there is also recognition by institutions of the benefits of and a move towards adopting formative approaches to the HEAR, although this is in its early stages.
By implementing the HEAR as a digitised report, students can take a greater degree of ownership as they can more easily curate their own report compared to a paper-based format. It is also verified by the respective institution and conforms to a national standard. While some higher education providers have developed in-house systems, others have engaged with third party vendors to facilitate electronic delivery of the HEAR.
How can I use this in my institution?
We have developed a self-assessment tool (opens in Excel) to assess readiness to implement the HEAR. This tool examines institutional strategies, policies, systems and processes which will support the production of the HEAR.
The Higher Education Academy provides the national support for the implementation and maintenance of the HEAR and has produced guidance, both for institutions and employers. A series of case studies have been produced demonstrating how other institutions have implemented the HEAR.
We have developed and maintain the technical specification for the HEAR which was produced with input from suppliers involved in implementation. The specification defines an XML (extensible markup language) format for the content of the HEAR when stored electronically. An archive of previous versions of the specification is also available.
The Higher Education Data and Information Improvement Programme (HEDIIP)
The improvements in data and information management made by individual learning providers sit within a wider context of a higher education data and information landscape that (as of 2016) is in the process of being reviewed and redesigned. The Regulatory Partnership Group, composed of all of the funders, regulatory bodies and other key stakeholder representatives, commissioned a programme of work aimed at reducing the burden of data collection and encouraging more and better use of data. HEDIIP was established in 2013 following a 2012 review - ‘Redesigning the higher education data and information landscape: a pathway to reform’.
Encouraging data sharing and interoperability across different agencies through the application of consistent standards is a key element of this work. It has however been timely for learning providers to undertake this review activity which has helped them understand the extent to which their own practices, processes and systems contribute to the burden.
In 2014 work was undertaken with participants from higher education providers and data collecting organisations on the vision for the development of a new information landscape. The four key elements to the data landscape are identified as:
- Collective governance and oversight (via the Internet Archive) – a key requirement for achieving a more efficient and effective information landscape.
- A standard HE dataset (via the Internet Archive) with common data definitions will make reporting more efficient and make published information more comparable.
- Transformed HESA collection (via the Internet Archive) – rationalisation of data collections – will address need for HE providers to provide the same/similar data multiple times.
- Improved data capability (via the Internet Archive) – the HEDIIP student data collection review found wide variation in terms of approaches to security, data management and technology in use within both data collectors and providers. The review recommended the raising of data management capability across collectors and providers. The data capability project was established to improve standards of data management and governance. The project has published a toolkit to guide HE data collectors and providers through data management maturity assessment and improvement planning.
The existence of HEDIIP provides a forum to take forward further work on data models and standards across the sector. See for example projects on the unique learner number (via the Internet Archive) and subject coding (via the Internet Archive).
Work leading to the creation of HEDIIP identified over 550 lines of reporting for some HEIs and HEDIIP has looked to capitalise on the potential for reuse of standardised information to reduce the overall number of requests for similar information. This could impact statutory reporting to the main sector agencies but also to the many professional statutory and regulatory bodies who regulate standards in particular professions.
- Our guide on transforming assessment and feedback with technology which includes a section on employability and assessment
- Our quick guide develop your students’ employability skills through technology
- Our report on technology for employability