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Happy 2021 from Maggie

Happy 2021 SROCers. I hope that you are all able to do something every day in 2021 to make you smile despite the ongoing turmoil of Covid.

With the start of a new year I have been thinking about our priorities at Northumbria for 2021; I’ve also been doing some reflection.

My HE career began as a Student Records Officer 30 years ago. I learnt loads in that first job when we implemented a new student record system, reengineered enrolment, introduced a module credit scheme, did the first HESA return…

From the very beginning I appreciated the criticality of the student record and its direct impact on students for admission and registration, fees, loans, transcripts etc; and for universities the importance for planning, funding, class lists, assessment etc. However, as I have progressed in my career and as we have developed the student record and systems and centralised various teams, I have seen so many more ways in which the student record is used across the university. I will just note a few of these that emerged across my career.

  • To start with there was the realisation, way before CMA requirements, that we needed key information on programmes and modules to feed prospectus entries - this was hardcopy of course, web pages came later and the full text loading for modules and programmes and ‘content management’; CMA came later still.
  • As universities introduced timetabling systems, the need for effective and real time feeds of students and modules/programmes to these systems was very apparent.
  • We also had the need for customer service records and systems, student self-service for documents or enquiries, all based on the student record.
  • The creation of university email and IT accounts also became integrated to the student record.
  • The links to VLEs and the population of programmes and module learning resources for students also comes from the student record; generally, we also have smart card systems which enable access to libraries, buildings, gyms and even halls of residence.
  • Access to specialist services such as careers and language services is often reliant on feeds from the student record. In addition to gate access, libraries also need to know which modules and programmes are live so that they can manage reading lists and library stock.
  • There are some highly specialised uses made of student records - from placement management to uniform distribution and returns to a myriad of Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies.
  • Then add attendance systems and analytics interventions.
  • There are also survey tools for module/programme questionnaires etc using the student record.
  • Most recently at my university we used the student record to help us ‘shepherd’ students during Covid so that we knew where they were; we had massive scale in managing ‘requests for additional consideration’ and also had to make rapid changes to assessment rules.

Now we take it for granted that systems should be linked, but it takes a lot of work for SROCers and others to maintain these integrations. But it is not always easy. Often decision points emerge as systems have overlapping functionality. Getting the student record ‘right’ is critical - at one stage it was suggested that I should have the words ‘master data’ tattooed on my forehead as it drives so many conversations!

But being so system dependent and reliant on integrations between systems has risks. This was proven at our university in 2020 when we had a cyber incident. The learning was immense. So the 2021 mega fun opportunity and big student record challenge for us is business continuity/contingency planning; and maybe to simplify some of that impressive infrastructure that we have evolved over many, many years. Bring it on!

Have fun, whatever 2021 brings you.

PS – as I was writing this blog I kept trying to decide my preferred collective noun for Student Records Officers? This was a topic of discussion at many a past SRO Conference, but we never actually concluded despite a few late evenings. How about a System of SROs?, a Glory of SROs?, how does an Accomplishment of SROs sound? My personal favourite, after 2020, is a Nucleus of SROs - but I could also be persuaded to a Register of SROs.

Maggie New, January 2021

Maggie is Academic Registrar and Director of Student, Library and Academic Services at Northumbria University

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