Task force aims to cut data burden on English sector

Announcement comes amid growing criticism of extra regulatory load placed on universities by reforms 

March 28, 2022
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The Westminster government is launching a new task force aimed at finding ways of cutting back on “overly burdensome” data reporting in English higher education.

Involving sector bodies such as the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) and Office for Students (OfS), the aim of the HE Data Reduction Taskforce (HEDRT) will be to “improve the efficiency of data collections, with bureaucracy rationalised and reduced”, according to higher education minister Michelle Donelan.

It comes as the Department for Education faces criticism from some in the sector that many of the reforms being brought in on quality and standards in England are increasing bureaucracy for universities.

In its response to OfS consultations on plans to introduce quality thresholds for institutions and on next steps for the teaching excellence framework (TEF), Universities UK emphasised the need for regulation to be “proportionate” and how it should not “impact on universities’ ability to deliver for their students”. 

Steve West, UUK president and University of the West of England vice-chancellor, said alongside the consultation response that if university staff were too “overburdened” with meeting the administration of regulation, it could “ironically” affect the quality of teaching.

Well before the latest reforms were announced, the government itself had stressed its desire to cut red tape, with a 2020 policy paper on “reducing bureaucratic burden in research, innovation and higher education” announcing measures including a review of the National Student Survey.

Announcing the new task force, Ms Donelan said the government wanted to “help universities to focus on their core activities of teaching and research – and we recognise that regulatory requirements have sometimes added unnecessary burden to this”.

“I have previously set out my commitment to tackling regulatory burden for universities and colleges, which is why I have brought together this group to look at where we can work together to improve the efficiency of data collections, with bureaucracy rationalised and reduced,” Ms Donelan said.

Alongside major organisations such as the OfS, Hesa, admissions body Ucas and the Student Loans Company, the task force also includes senior managers at higher and further education institutions and individual experts in university data.

In a statement announcing the task force, the DfE said it would seek to “understand the different data requirements on providers and where these could be reduced, removed or reformed”.

“Delivering on [the minister’s] commitment to cut out needless complexity and bureaucracy for the sector, the task force will meet every six weeks over the next six months to deliver these reforms and improvements swiftly,” the statement added. 


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