Building up Data Capability from Scratch

Data Management in an Alternative Provider

Working in Higher Education for 15 years has taught me a lot, but I didn’t get the breadth of experience I was looking for until I moved into the private sector, just over eight months ago. Since moving to an independent (or alternative) provider, I have learnt a lot about data, systems, processes and legislation, and how they all work together to create an amazing learning environment for students. It has been a roller-coaster of picking up new skills, working out how to do new things, and working out how to build new systems.

When I started as the Data & Compliance Manager, I realised there would be a lot to do, with some outdated systems that needed replacing, and multiple conflicting sources of data. I not only had to work out how to do the business-as-usual of data returns to HESA and managing student records, but then two months after starting I also had to cope with the requirements of the General Data Protection Regulation coming into force. It did seem a bit like being in a small boat in a storm, but I have been able to build some key foundations that have helped me to expand our data capability.

My first task was to build a new student records system to act as the single source of truth for our enrolled students. This is still in development, but using the Data Futures Data Model helped me to put together a structure that would work for future data returns, as well as cut down on the time required for me to build a model of my own. Once I had this in place as database tables, I was able to populate them with data from a number of existing systems. This was slightly complicated by each system having different unique ID fields for the records – I brought these all together into the new system, and created a new ID number that would follow a student through right from enquiry to admissions, enrolment and eventually alumni.

It’s amazing what you can do when you suddenly have a trusted database of your students – I was then able to run statistics to help senior managers with reports, return data reliably to HESA, and create outputs for the SLC. This enabled me to work with other teams to reduce the amount of manual processing they were doing. For example, we have been working to set up a link to UCAS so that the data is imported into a database rather than having to type in the details manually – a huge time saving for the Admissions team.

I have a number of projects on the go at any one time, one of my current ones is to make more use of the Microsoft software we already have available, such as SharePoint and Teams, to improve how we manage our files and communications. I am also working on developing a Data Strategy for the organisation, which will help me to prioritise our developments over the next 5 – 10 years. This will be a significant piece of work, but it should give us a clear road map for how to get to where we want to be – able to provide excellent data capabilities to our staff, students and stakeholders. I will be running a session at the SROC Conference on how I am getting on with this Data Strategy, at which I would welcome any ideas on how to get this into shape.

Martha Horler

Data & Compliance Manager at Futureworks Training

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