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Data Futures: programme update

We are writing to provide an update on the current position regarding Data Futures. This information comes in the light of risks raised by the Programme Team, and a recent independent review of the programme. It also follows a discussion at the Data Futures Programme Board meeting on 27 February, and the HESA Board meeting on 1 March.

Data Futures progress

The first and most important point is that Data Futures will not be going live in 2019/20. This is clearly a significant development, with practical implications for all parties. We are aware that it may cause difficulties for some providers in particular.

Many of you will be aware that the Data Futures Programme Board regularly reviews progress and risks, and had intended to recommend a Go / No Go decision in April regarding delivery for the 2019/20 academic year. This recommendation has been made earlier than planned as although significant progress has been made, there are a number of technical challenges to resolve. These challenges mean that there is significant risk that Data Futures may not be able to deliver the required data quality in the timescales to meet statutory customer needs for 2019/20.

Data Futures is a complex, once-in-a-generation project to transform the data collection infrastructure for the HE sector. The context in which Data Futures has been operating has changed significantly since it began. Data Futures began in the pre-HERA environment in England, before the Office for Students was in existence, and before HESA became the designated data body. Considering the current technical challenges and against this changing context, it is appropriate that all parties should take stock of the project, to ensure that it will meet the future needs of major stakeholders, deliver the data quality that we require, and remain affordable.

We have also become aware of increasing concern amongst some providers and software suppliers about their readiness to deliver Data Futures in 2019/20. We have taken these concerns on board in considering the overall deliverability of the project. In saying this, we are aware that some providers are more advanced in their preparations than others and accept that the picture regarding readiness is not uniform across the sector.

The Data Futures Programme Board (which comprises membership from HESA, the Statutory Customers, HE providers, and representatives from sector groups UUK, GuildHE, UCISA, AHUA and HESPA, and from Jisc and the Office for National Statistics) met on 27 February and unanimously agreed to recommend to the HESA Board that the project could not proceed on the current timeline with enough confidence in meeting the data quality needs of the sector. As a result, a unanimous decision was taken by the HESA Board on 1 March that implementation should be delayed.

The Programme Board will review options for taking the programme forward over the course of this month, with a view to determining a forward plan in time for the Programme Board meeting in April. We will then communicate with you again in May.

Ongoing work and Beta pilots

Work on Data Futures will continue. HESA intends to continue to run a Beta Pilot. However, the original emphasis on informing development for a 2019/20 live timeframe has now changed.  Consequently, the scope of Beta is likely to reduce this year, pending confirmation of wider plans and a potential further Beta next year. We will communicate more details directly to Beta participants in due course.

An update to the Student (Data Futures) coding manual (Version 2.3.0) will be released on Monday 18 March, to support the initial stage of the Beta pilot and enable participants to continue to engage with the pilot.

Arrangements for 2019/20 

The team at HESA is working on a revised plan for delivering the student data collection for 2019/20, including the AP and ITT student collections, and a solution for new providers. We want to ensure that there is minimal disruption for providers. As a result, 2019/20 collections are expected to be returned using the existing HESA Data Collection system on a retrospective basis, using modified versions of the 2018/19 Student and AP Student specifications. We will also be seeking to minimise the transition for new providers where they are joining the HE sector for the first time in England, or for Alternative Providers moving to the ‘Fee Cap’ category in England with its increased reporting requirements. We will be working with the Statutory Customers to formalise plans and will provide further information in due course.

Further information

More information on all the areas covered will be provided as soon as it is available. In the meantime, if you want to raise any specific queries, please contact [email protected] or call +44 (0) 1242 211 144.


Press Officer