Data quality starts with strategy

Excess data, disparate systems and too much manual processing can hinder higher education’s use of analytics to transform the student experience

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31 May 2023
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Ellucian roundtable at Digital Universities UK
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Poor quality data and its management are the most common factors that restrict universities’ ability to improve the student experience, a panel of academics heard at a recent Digital Universities UK round table, hosted by Times Higher Education in partnership with Ellucian. Legacy systems that silo data add to this disruption and limit the ability to make use of data in a meaningful and modern way. This hurdle can be jumped with a revaluation and overhaul of systems, supported by a designated leader who works in partnership with systems experts such as Ellucian.

An increase in senior data roles at universities was noted and welcomed by the panel and shows a dedication to overhauling and modernising systems. “The sector has been missing this for a long time,” said Peter Moss, business development director at Ellucian. “Data quality starts with strategy.”

Donald McLeod, director of change and transformation (digital) at the University of East London, said the university has just employed a chief data officer. “There is far too much manual intervention and there’s been far too much tweaking of the system over the years,” he said. This has been caused by a lack of a single owner of the journey with responsibility and accountability, McLeod added. A common problem with segmented systems is frustrating misalignment due to system changes being made in isolation, the panel heard.

“There’s a lack of connectivity between datasets. It feels like our databases are more like storage facilities or data vaults,” Tim Quine, deputy vice-chancellor of education and student experience at the University of Exeter, said of siloed systems.

Becky Lewis, director of admissions and transitions officer at the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia, said disparate datasets add unnecessary time to tasks. She gave the example of accessing data of students who came through clearing. This information was disparate and had to be accessed manually, taking time and resources. “That data is there, and we really should have systems to do it,” she said.

Discussing the changing shape of student journeys and the personalisation opportunities a strong system offers, Tracey Jessop, chief transformation officer at De Montfort University, said the use of data to predict intervention points on the student journey would be useful but that it needs to be used mindfully. “It doesn’t give you the data to make a decision, it gives you the data to know that a human could help you and gives consent to have a conversation,” she said. Universities currently offer lots of support but often only after something’s gone wrong, she said.

David Pike, head of digital learning at the University of Bedford, said during this “explosion of analytics”, staff needed a strong understanding of data in order to guide students correctly.

The concerns, trends and needs raised during discussions such as this help Ellucian craft their partnerships with universities, said Matt Searles, vice-president of Europe and Asia Pacific at Ellucian. “Part of the value for us is hearing what’s happening in the sector and getting that feedback and keeping us up to date,” he said. Moss shared that Ellucian has recently adapted its system implementation models with partners based on feedback, capacity and budget.

The panel:

  • Dawn Hall, executive manager of employment and skills, Leeds City Council
  • Tracey Jessup, chief transformation officer, De Montfort University
  • Alistair Lawrence, head of branded content, Times Higher Education (chair)
  • Becky Lewis, director of admissions and transitions officer, School of Biological Sciences, University of East Anglia
  • Donald McLeod, director of change and transformation (digital), University of East London
  • Peter Moss, business development director, Ellucian
  • Jane Neal-Smith, associate dean of post-experience education and accreditation, University of York
  • David Pike, head of digital learning, University of Bedfordshire
  • Tim Quine, deputy vice-chancellor of education and student experience, University of Exeter
  • Matt Searles, vice-president, Europe and Asia Pacific, Ellucian

Find out more about Ellucian.

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