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Thoughts on in-year data collection: what’s next for Data Futures?

I first heard about the Data Futures programme in the summer of 2016 before joining the HESA team as Director for Data Futures in October. I have a background in similar projects and was very excited to learn about the plans for Data Futures and its potential impact on the sector.

The current data collection regime in Higher Education (HE) involves a large submission to HESA at the end of each academic year, as well as up to 500 additional data submissions to other organisations throughout the year. By moving to an in-year basis for collection, Data Futures will begin to support the rationalisation of data collection so that other organisations can collect their data from HESA, rather than directly from providers. In-year collection will also ensure that data is available sooner for data users and decision makers, drive improvements in the data submission process for providers, and help underpin an efficient regulatory regime in England.

To achieve our goal involves changing ways of working that have remained largely untouched since 1994. We’re now midway through summer period and for Data Futures, this coincides with the end of our detailed design phase. Since February we have been working with our implementation partner, Civica UK Limited, the Alpha stakeholder group (comprising 14 providers), statutory customers and student information systems software suppliers, to develop plans and designs for in-year student data collection.

Good data is about regularly reporting the truth to facilitate better outcomes

I’ve seen in previous change programmes, how better data delivers improvements for service users and business efficiency. Progress is being made in other sectors, too: in healthcare, data on the medicinal prescription habits of healthcare professionals is compared with National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines to analyse lag in the adoption of clinical guidelines. In local government, data from services such as road-gritting, meals on wheels and social care are combined with weather forecasts to ensure the better protection of vulnerable people. Regulatory regimes in sectors like aviation, are moving from a ‘compliance’ to a ‘performance’ basis, underpinned with better data, and aiming to reduce the burden of regulation. Good data in this sense is not used for league tables, benchmarking or targets – it’s about regularly reporting the truth to facilitate better outcomes.

In September, we will publish the details of our collection specification, including the student record 19/20. This specification currently proposes that the first in-year collection is due for sign-off by providers during December 2019 (for the period September – November). This will follow the submission of the 18/19 student collection in the existing format and signed-off in the usual way, during October 2019. We expect, therefore, that the second half of 2019 will be especially busy for colleagues working in provider organisations and involved in HESA data submission activity.

The specification we publish will be the one that HESA is using to build its systems and processes, and so providers will be able to use it for similar purposes. We’re doing what we can now to ensure that any content we publish is consistent with the changes across the sector; however, there will always be a risk that changes may be required to our specifications, in the run-up to 2019, and which are beyond our control. Should this be the case, this will be communicated through the HESA website and Data Futures JiscMail channels, with as much notice as possible.

If you have any queries about Data Futures please do write to us at [email protected]


Rob Phillpotts

Managing Director HESA Statutory