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The Data Matters conference: Collaborating to advance UK higher education

Data matters

The thing I dread most when being engaged in conversation by strangers is the inevitability of the question ‘So, what is it you do for a living?’.

It’s really quite difficult to make ‘I work in HE data’ sound mysterious and dangerous.

In part I dread the question because it’s really quite difficult to make ‘I work in HE data’ sound mysterious and dangerous, but mainly I dread it because the answer can only either be overly-simplified (leading to many more questions than I’m prepared to answer) or such a detailed and complex dive into HE regulation that when I’m finished I’m obliged to offer them a tissue to dab at the blood running from their ears.

The recent launch of the Data Matters conference (a joint enterprise between HESA, Jisc, and QAA, taking place on 3 November 2017 in London) has reminded me of the most recent time I was asked the question about what I do for a living. After running a training seminar on understanding how HESA data is utilised in league tables, I took my seat on the 16.30 from Kings Cross to Newcastle safe in the knowledge that Nicolas Cage on a 5 inch cracked screen would eat up 1 hour 33 minutes of my journey, followed by some light snoozing and heavy drooling. Before I had even finished wiping the finger prints off my phone screen, a travelling party of three took the remaining seats on my table and opened with the line “Do you know who you look like?”. Sometime between concluding that in actual fact I do not look like a dehydrated version of Will Young and the first globule of drool hitting my lapel, we tackled the small talk staple of what I do for a living…

Upon explaining that my team train HE professionals around the submission and analysis of data, as well as facilitating the sharing of best practice, the interrogator pondered for a time and then asked “Why would anyone go to that?”.

“Because it’s a rather good seminar” was my natural and truthful reply.

“No I get that Darren…”

“It’s Dan.”

“…but why would universities share their competitive advantage, their processes for improvement?”

It is one of the many things that separates the UK HE sector from most others – the willingness, nay determination, of providers to share and collaborate.

It is one of the many things that separates the UK HE sector from most others, and one that it should be deeply proud of and protect at all costs – the willingness, nay determination, of providers to share and collaborate. There is rarely a cry of “BUT IT’S BAD FOR BUSINESS” by providers but instead an innate understanding of the virtue – a recognition that sharing and collaborating is in actual fact good for business as we collectively work towards an improved product that helps drive market growth and reputation. In 15 years of working with the sector I am yet to come across a single person or provider who isn’t willing to share solutions to problems or enhancements to the way we might work. If there are efficiencies identified and implemented, they are more often than not achieved through the collective and not the individual, through the sharing and not the concealment of knowledge.

If there are efficiencies identified and implemented, they are more often than not achieved through the sharing and not the concealment of knowledge.

Nowhere is this more true than in the context of the sector’s approach to data collection and analysis – how do we better collect, assure and analyse data, how do we embed it in organisational strategies, and how do we enhance teaching and research using the evidence base? It is an area that HESA works to support and encourage across all of the broad range of activities and services it specialises in, and with Data Futures in mind one that is core to all that we will achieve.

The Data Matters conference is an extension of this long-held spirit of collaboration in the continual search for improvement.

The Data Matters conference is an extension of this long-held spirit of collaboration in the continual search for improvement. The conference is itself evidence of the efficiencies we can achieve through collaboration with our partners, and will provide an opportunity to learn from leading experts on areas such as business intelligence, capability, learner analytics, trendspotting and using data to enhance the student experience. Perhaps more importantly, it is a further opportunity for us all to share practice and learn from one another, to establish new networks in the changing landscape, and to achieve our common goal of advancing UK higher education.  

Data Matters: Work effectively in the new HE landscape takes place on 3 November in London.

Register now

"Collaboration in the continual search for improvement": #HEDataMatters17 conference, 3 Nov, with HESA, Jisc and QAA

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Daniel Kidd

Dan Kidd

Head of Training & Consultancy