Appreciating alternative providers
The 2014/15 academic year saw the first compulsory submission of individualised student data by 63 alternative providers of higher education.
These providers do not receive direct public funding, but have had undergraduate courses designated by the government to enable their students to access public funding.
So far, so dry.
This is the opening up of a whole new data frontier.
However, this is not merely a case of information beginning to flow seamlessly from colleges to HESA. This is the opening up of a whole new data frontier for the agency and these providers. An entirely new demand on a set of colleges and schools and the data they hold on their students.
Having HESA knowledge is a bankable, transferrable skill in the HE sector.
To put this into some context, the vast majority of the 164 publicly funded HE providers that submit student data to HESA have done so for over 20 years. They have invested in systems, staff and training in order to meet HESA and other requirements. A quick search for ‘HESA’ on any jobs website will throw up far more jobs at universities than it would for openings here in Cheltenham. Having HESA knowledge is a bankable, transferrable skill in the HE sector.
So, to the alternative providers. A few of them do already have university, or university college, status, along with taught degree awarding powers, with infrastructures comparable to their publicly funded contemporaries. The majority of this cohort of 63 providers do not. Many of them exist purely to teach dance or drama; to prepare students for mission or ministry; to train nannies and musicians; to widen access to higher education and reach out to those who may not have entered into the traditional HE sector.
Alternative providers' focus is on their central mission, not to collect, validate and provide statistical data on their students.
Quite simply, their focus is on their central mission, not to collect, validate and provide statistical data on their students. HESA was very much aware of this and put together a comprehensive programme of training visits, seminars and materials, as well as providing helpdesk support through the Institutional Liaison team. This support ranged from helping to interpret the complex field definitions, to offering a sympathetic voice to provider staff trying to squeeze production of a statutory return into their already overflowing workload.
It is a huge testament to these providers that they all got their data in to HESA ahead of the final deadline.
It is a huge testament to these providers that they all got their data in to HESA ahead of the final deadline. Many of them did not have the systems to output the XML format demanded by the return, having to convert it manually. Most providers worked long after 5pm, once their ‘normal’ business operations had ceased. All of them were patient, dedicated and thoroughly pleasant to deal with, despite the steep learning curve.
The term ‘alternative provider’ suggests that these schools and colleges are doing something different within the HE sector. I would posit that the level of hard work and time put into providing this data puts them right on a par with their publicly funded contemporaries.
An Experimental Statistical First Release of information from the AP student collection is published today.